Walter Beutler with a picture of himself holding a 53-pound spring. The long-time Fraser River recreational angler is concerned about the future of the sport.

A happy past, but a worrisome future for long-time Fraser River angler

‘I don’t think it’s going to improve…’ Walter Beutler says

Walter Beutler says fishing for sockeye salmon in the Fraser River with a rod and reel is tricky.

It’s because the fish aren’t inclined to take the bait from a hook, the veteran fisherman explains.

“They don’t bite,” Beutler says. “With them, it’s a snagging situation.”

That means getting the hook low in the water and waiting for an open-mouthed sockeye to blunder into a hook.

On some days, in a good season, as many as 1,500 anglers like Beutler have tried their luck snagging sockeye on the Fraser, a river that produces more salmon than any other single river system in the world.

Sport fishing is an industry worth an estimated $100 million a year for Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Langley and other communities along the river.

Beutler has been at it since he was old enough to cast a lure, growing up just a few hundred feet away from the Fraser on the farm his parents owned in Chilliwack.

When he was bought his own place, Beutler stayed close to his familiar fishing grounds, purchasing the property right across the road from his parent’s home, a T-shaped lot on Brinx Road.

“I’ve been a pretty ardent fisherman,” Beutler chuckles.

“I don’t like fishing more than eight days a week.”

The biggest catch of his career, a spring salmon, weighed 53 pounds, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about it, preferring to discuss the day his then-10-year-old daughter Shelley caught a 46-pounder and got her picture in the local paper.

Chilliwack Progress storyThe photo that ran in the Chilliwack Progress on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 1979, shows a smiling Shelley posing with a white spring salmon that is almost as big as she is.

Beutler is 78 now, and less inclined to go out in rough weather, but he still loves to go fishing on the Fraser River, with a preference for bar fishing from the riverbank or in a boat.

He has eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and has taken the two oldest fishing.

But fishing in 2016 involves issues that have nothing do with where to dangle a hook, Beutler says, and that may keep him from going fishing at all.

“We may not get an opening,” Beutler says.

He’s concerned about a proposal that would transfer part of the Fraser River Chinook salmon allocation from recreational fishermen.

The proposal was put forward by First Nations representatives during a series of meetings with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in January, March and April.

They cited the Sparrow decision, when the Supreme Court of Canada called for a “generous, liberal interpretation” of the aboriginal right to fish the Fraser River.

Beutler says when the court decision came down in 1990, he, like most sport fishermen didn’t pay it much attention at first.

“I was vaguely aware of it,” Beutler says.

“we didn’t know how it would affect us down the road.”

As it turns out, the impact of the decision was far-reaching, putting First Nations fishermen at the front of the line when fish allocations are being decided, ahead of sports anglers like Beutler and commercial fishermen.

“It shifted things quite dramatically,” Beutler says.

Asked if he thinks the court decision was a fair one, now that the full impact is known, Beutler takes a careful pause before he says no.

“I think we should all be treated equally,” Beutler says.

He is quick to add that he understands the desire of First Nations fishermen to protect their right to food, social and ceremonial fishing.

“I can see where they’re coming from,” he says, but insists it should be possible to accommodate the interests of all stakeholders, First Nations, anglers and commercial, without favouring one over the other.

The proposal to take some of the allocation from sports fishermen and give it to First Nations is opposed by the newly formed Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance (FRSA), a coalition of Fraser River fishing guides, recreational anglers and industry reps.

Beutler doesn’t like their chances.

“The sport fisherman is getting shafted all the time,” he says.

“I don’t think it’s going to improve a heckuva lot for us.”

Nor is he optimistic about the future of sport fishing along the Fraser, with more anglers chasing dwindling stocks and seasons that get shorter and shorter.

“I have to spend a lot more time trying to catch a fish than I used to,” he says.

“There’s a lot more fishermen on the Fraser than there ever was.”

The way the fishery is administered has become more complicated and subject to sudden changes, he says.

“They have openings and closures at any time,” he says.

“(It used to be that) you had to give a 72-hour notice and it was posted at the post office, now they put it on the internet.”

A decision on the re-allocation proposal was expected this summer, but instead DFO announced the chinook run would be below threshold levels and as a result all fishing groups would have to accept reduced allocations.

 

Just Posted

‘A labour of love’: High school turns into ‘toy shop’ for Surrey Christmas Bureau

Fraser Heights Secondary has been making toys for the non-profit for more than a decade

Oppal says Surrey mayor wrong about policing transition timeline

Chairman of committee overseeing Surrey’s transition from RCMP to city police says work won’t be done by Dec. 11

White Rock waterfront strategy ‘pop-up’ session to be held tomorrow

Event to take place at museum from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Farnworth says Surrey RCMP boss’s statement on budget should be taken ‘seriously’

Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald warned Surrey’s budget will have “detrimental effect” on policing

LETTER: If recall mechanism existed, Surrey’s mayor would be gone in heartbeat

McCallum and cronies are out of control, won’t listen and are in dereliction of their duty

MAP: Christmas light displays in Surrey and beyond

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

VIDEO: John Lennon’s iconic Rolls Royce rolls into Vancouver Island college for checkup

Royal BC Museum, Camosun College and Coachwerks Restorations come together to care for car

VIDEO: Rockslide closes part of Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Chilliwack mom gives back to neonatal unit with Christmas stocking drive

Ashley Durance is paying it forward to other families and their babies following daughter’s NICU stay

Petition calls for appeal of ex-Burns Lake mayor’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says Luke Strimbold’s case is under review

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

BC firefighters to help battle Australian bushfires

Canada sent 22 people, including 7 from B.C.

B.C. NDP touts the end of MSP premiums

Horgan, James held news conference to reiterate that people will get their last bill this month

Illicit drug deaths down, but B.C. coroner says thousands still overdose

Chief coroner Life Lapointe says province’s drug supply remains unpredictable

Most Read