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

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.

The 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.