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When the sturgeon fishing season got under way this spring in Lethbridge, Alberta, the banks of the Oldman River were filled with many anglers. This year was particularly busy due to COVID-19, with many people wanting to enjoy the outdoors and stay close to home. People had been stuck inside because of the restrictions and with the nice weather, they were ready to enjoy the outdoors.

Blair Murphy has been fishing the Oldman for many years and this year the water level was very high, which is usually good for catching sturgeon. His friends had been catching a few 40- to 60-pounders, but Murphy was only catching the odd sucker. The boys were rubbing it in big time, but Murphy is not one to give up, especially when it comes to fishing.

Blair Murphy received several injuries
while battling the massive sturgeon.
After endless hours of fishing along the riverbanks and having no luck, he finally found his catch of a lifetime when a large sturgeon took his line and forced him and two other young men into a 30-minute battle.

On a Friday evening, after almost a week of fishing 10 to 12 hours a day, Murphy was disappointed in the lack of results for his hours of fishing. When he had enough, he called to a deceased loved one to help him out, and lo and behold, a 70-inch, 130-pound sturgeon took his line. It happened to be the anniversary of his late father’s passing.

“I looked upstairs and said, ‘Hey Dad, help me out here,’” says Murphy.

“I was down there for at least 60 hours in that week at 10 hours a day, and it was getting very frustrating. My father passed away 11 years ago that day, so I called to him and said I need some help, and in less than 10 minutes, I had one on. And I fought with him for half an hour,” says Murphy.

“I thought at first that it was another sucker fish. The sturgeon’s bite was so soft that I thought I had another sucker, but once I saw the back come up, I couldn’t believe it,” says Murphy.

The massive sturgeon Blair Murphy caught
with the help of two young men.
“It was a whopper! It was big; we figure it was 43 inches round and 70 inches long. When I look back at it, it was a beast!”

Along for the fight of a lifetime, two young men, Noah and Hunter Higgins, assisted Murphy in his battle, as they were pulled along the riverside for quite some way.

“I really tried keeping the line in the slower moving water,” said Murphy, “but the fish had other plans. It headed right into the middle of the river.”

“Thankfully, these two young men who were fishing beside me came over to help. I was getting really discouraged, and I love to fish and know how to fish well, and I want to give credit to the two kids that were fishing with me and helping me with the net.

“Hunter was netting it, and I was on the rocks and Noah was on the line. We ended up a very long way down the river before we got him in.”

Blair Murphy’s punctured arm.
The battle was not without mishap. As the fish took off, the injury prone Murphy ended up being tripped up on a fallen log. He was pulled to the ground on a branch, puncturing a hole in his arm and cracking a rib.

“I was yelling at the guys not to touch the line until I caught my breath. It seemed like the fish knew he had me down, and I could feel him pull away to make another run. I got up and kept going. I think the adrenaline was helping me to keep fighting.

“When we finally got the fish into about two feet of water, we waded in and pushed this huge sturgeon onto the shore.

“You get them in that fast water and they just go. I have never seen a fish go that hard up and down the river bottom and I was ready to swim if he decided to cut across, because you don’t get a fish like that very often,” said Murphy.

“It is such a thrill, but I ended up falling down and now I have a big hole in my arm with some stitches and a broken rib, but that’s fishing. My son asked me if it was worth it, and I said ‘I’d do it again in a minute.’ If you don’t keep going, you’re not going to catch.”

Although a little sore from the fight, Murphy says he would do it again any day.

As a long-time angler, Murphy says it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was even more enjoyable being able to share it with upcoming young anglers.

The sturgeon was estimated to have a 43-inch girth.
“Once we landed the fish, we were giving high fives to everyone on the shore, it was super fun. Everyone around there was saying that it must be a record.

“These two young guys helped me a lot. You don’t bring in a fish like that on your own, and what a thrill for them too, because they were both around 18-years-old and to see a fish like that caught and be a part of netting it, I was screaming I was so happy, and they were ecstatic,” says Murphy.

Once the adrenaline wore off, Murphy said thanks to his dad up above and headed to his doctor’s office for an x-ray and five stitches.

“As it turns out, I had cracked my rib as well. But it was so worth it,” he said. “I won’t forget that day for as long as I live.”

The 70-inch long, approximately 130-pound sturgeon was released back into the Oldman River. The girth was 43 inches, potentially beating the previous record for Alberta. Murphy says the experience of this catch was a blessed moment of his life, and really shows the incredible wildlife hiding under the waters of the Oldman.

“Hopefully, those young guys can catch this fish again one day, maybe with kids of their own,” says Murphy.

“That’s what fishing is all about.” ■

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