The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Sturgeon whisperer’ catches and releases Pig Nose, the fabled 650-pound sturgeon

The Loch Ness Monster. The Kraken. Moby Dick. Pig Nose.

Most probably haven’t heard of that last one, but like the other monsters of the deep, the Pig Nose has long eluded humans. The only difference is that it’s actually real.

The Pig Nose is a gargantuan sturgeon — more than 10 feet long, 5 feet in girth, and weighing about 650 pounds — that lives at the bottom of the Fraser River, the longest river in British Columbia.

This particular fish earned its nickname from its stubby, pink nose, the front of which must have been lost in an accident or a fight at some point in its life, which has spanned at least 80 years, according to Atlas Obscura.

For context, white sturgeons are now an endangered species but were once prevalent in the rivers on the West Coast. One particular type of sturgeon was so popular in New York that they were nicknamed “Albany Beef,” according to the Smithsonian. They can grow to massive sizes — up to 20 feet long, according to the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society.

Unfortunately, seeing a fish even close to that size is incredibly rare today.

The species doesn’t reach sexual maturity until 20 years into its life, making it a prime candidate for overfishing — which is exactly what ended up happening. Although they’ve been around since before the dinosaurs — and seem it; instead of scales, they sport bony plates called scutes, which cover their leathery skin — their numbers have slowly dwindled through the years.

But Pig Nose has remained. It refused to be caught. A wily creature of the deep, growing in size as well as legend.

People knew it existed. It had been tagged with a microchip as part of a program, begun in 2000, by the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society.

But that was years ago. Pig Nose has grown smarter.

One can only imagine how frustrated the folks at the Lillooet, B.C.-based River Monster Adventures were at having never caught the monster. After all, the company’s entire business is based on offering the experience of sturgeon fishing to tourists, business groups on retreat and families looking for a fresh adventure.

But the Pig Nose remained naught but a myth to them.

“This fish has been the talk of fishing and sporting goods shops for years,” Jeff Grimolfson told Global News Canada.

Cue 19-year-old Nick McCabe, a young man known around the shop as the “sturgeon whisperer.”

Last week, he went in search of a big sturgeon, something that he could brag about for years. It was his first season with the company — why not make a splash?

“We had fished all day pretty hard and struggled to get something to a good size for my group of friends that I had out,” McCabe told CBC.

On his last day out on the Fraser, he was preparing to head home, discouraged. Then, as if offering himself to the young man, Pig Nose jumped right out of the water.

“I said, ‘Well, that looks like a 10-footer, so strap on, we’re going to be into at least a two-hour fight.’ And it ended up being two hours, two hours and 15 minutes,” McCabe told CBC. “At one point he had swam upriver against the current, and I was moving up the river with the boat following him.”

The fish could have easily snapped the line. It could have won. But McCabe fought, and finally Pig Nose tired out.

It had been many years, and Pig Nose had never been captured on camera, but here was proof.

“We’re walking on clouds,” co-worker Jeff Grimolfson told Global News Canada.

McCabe took a few photos with Pig Nose, measuring it and scanning its ID microchip. Eventually, though, he released the enormous fish to go swimming back to the depths of the river to live out its life. After all, sturgeons can live to be up to 200 years old — and it’ll keep growing.

Another battle for another day.

For today, it was won by man.

“The living legend has been captured and lives on,” Grimolfson said.