Forty-five minutes after a Kennewick man began wrangling a fish on his line in the Hanford Reach National Monument, he caught a glimpse of the 11-foot-long monster he’d hooked.
“It jumped out of the water and we saw its head,” Ryan Armatrout told the Herald. “Then we all knew it was a beast.”
It took three hours for Armatrout to subdue the Columbia River fish, estimated to weight 700-plus pounds. He, his father-in-law and two friends fishing with him went to shore and snapped some photos with the sturgeon before releasing it back into the river. Those photos have since gone viral online, and the 29-year-old man is still amazed at his catch.
“I’ve heard stories of 13-footers, but they’re rare, and those stories are really old,” Armatrout said.
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The June 14 fishing trip was inspired after Armatrout saw a photo of an 8-foot-long sturgeon caught by friends Tanner Adler and Doug Young near the McNary Dam. They headed up to a favorite fishing spot in a section of the Reach at the northernmost end of the Hanford site.
Armatrout hooked the sturgeon about 9 a.m. and gradually reeled it in as it exhausted itself. He said he asked Adler and Young, and his father-in-law Steve McPeak if they wanted to help and gain some of the glory, but they said it was his catch. McPeak steered the boat so Armatrout could keep up with the fish.
“This fish was going wherever it wanted,” he said. “I’m not even sure it knew it was hooked.”
A Fish and Wildlife officer on patrol on the riverside saw Armatrout trying to bring the fish in and took photos and video of the catch and release, Armatrout said.
White sturgeon live throughout rivers in the Northwest and have been known to get as large as 20 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds.
However, the species was overfished in the past, so those hooking them may only keep them if they are caught upstream of the Bonneville Dam and only then if they are between a little more than 3 feet to 4.5 feet long, depending on where you are in the river, according to Washington fishing regulations. National Public Radio reported earlier this month that poachers are targeting sturgeon in the region to collect their valuable eggs for caviar.
Armatrout’s photos of his catch have been shared on Facebook, image sharing site imgur and the online message boards of Reddit, earning thousands of “likes” and comments.
And while the fishing trip that led to Armatrout’s sturgeon was inspired by his friends catching a slightly less-hefty sturgeon of their own, one-upsmanship isn’t his motivation.
“It’s not a competition; it’s an experience for everyone,” he said.