Deaf girl and family help guide save sturgeon tangled in net

Ciara and family had won a sturgeon fishing adventure during an event for the deaf and hard of hearing in August.

Guide Mark Wilkin along with Jascine Peterson

Guide Mark Wilkin along with Jascine Peterson

A family who won a fishing trip at an event for the deaf got a first-hand look at challenges affecting Fraser River sturgeon earlier this month while reeling in a four-and-a-half-foot beast.

Ciara, an eight-year-old deaf girl, her mother Jascine Peterson, and grandmother Colleen had won a guided sturgeon trip and assistance from a sign language interpreter at a family fishing event for the deaf and hard of hearing in early August.

But when the trio got a bite just north of the Mission bridge, things didn’t go quite as expected.

Ciara and her mother and grandmother started reeling the fish in, but the creature on the other end of the line didn’t seem to be displaying the fight most sturgeon put up, said sign language interpreter Rhys McCormick, who organized the family fishing event, which is in its second year.

“It fought like a normal fish for a very short amount of time,” he said. Soon the anglers found themselves pulling in what felt like dead weight.

The reason became clearer when the fish got closer to shore – it was wrapped in a tangle of line, and a rope tied to a plastic jug was caught up in the mess.

Eventually, Big Valley Sport Fishing guide Mark Wilken – who had donated his time and boat for the trip – brought the sturgeon onto the boat, where it was freed from some 40 yards of fishing line. After a quick picture, the fish was released back into the water alive. The rope it had been caught in, however, was still partially in the water. No amount of yanking would bring the rest to the surface, forcing Wilken to cut it.

It’s not the first time a sturgeon has been found caught up in misplaced nets; in March, fisheries officers near Chilliwack freed a half-dozen sturgeon that had been snagged in poaching nets. McCormick said the jug found tied to the rope is commonly used to mark nets floating beneath the water’s surface.

Despite the snag, McCormick said the trip turned into a great learning experience for the new fishers on board, with Ciara taking photos to show her school the following day.

Jascine Peterson, meanwhile, posted on Facebook that Wilken “taught us the true meaning of being a fisherman. We felt like we are river keepers and managed to save a sturgeon from all of that unbelievable amount of stuff tangling up on the fish. We sure learned a lot.”