Back channel blowout near Chilliwack strands 37 fishermen

A jet boat, two Sea-Doos and two whitewater rafts were deployed by Chwk SAR

Fishermen were stranded at Peg Leg near Chilliwack on the Fraser River after a channel blew out part of a sandbar.

It took 20 Search and Rescue volunteers to shuttle all the stranded fishermen on the Fraser River back to safety.

A jet boat, two Sea-Doos and two whitewater rafts were deployed Wednesday afternoon by Chilliwack SAR members to ferry 37 fishermen to shore from the gravel bar at Peg Leg.

It was one of their biggest operations to date, said CSAR search manager Doug Fraser.

But it all went fairly quickly and smoothly, he said.

“It was unprecedented,” he said. “Typically we get called out to help one or two people, or maybe five. But never as many as 37.”

It took several trips back and forth to get everyone ashore.

“The good thing about this incident is that no one was in the back channel when it blew out, and we didn’t have to look for anyone in the river.”

It was a dangerous situation that turned out OK.

The bottom end of the gravel bar, which was once attached, is now an isolated little chunk of land in the river.

Peg Leg Bar is an extremely popular sportfishing spot in Chilliwack, attracting gaggles of anglers who line the gravel bars shoulder to shoulder during the sockeye season.

The area was so congested with traffic that emergency vehicles had difficulty gaining access.

“Most fishermen have some etiquette but at Peg Leg sometimes it’s more like Gold Rush fever. People rush to get to it from Chilliwack, and from Vancouver, and all over, and all they have on their mind is getting their two sockeye limit.”

When the anglers first waded out across the back channel it would have been about knee-deep and about 20 feet across.

But over the course of a few hours, the force of the current kept eating away at the entrance to the channel. Suddenly it gaped about 80 feet wide, and nine or 10 feet deep, making it impossible for the fishermen to get back to where they came from.

Chilliwack SAR was called out to the river at about 3:45. When Fraser first saw the call details, it said 80 fishermen were stranded.

“I thought it was a typo,” he said.

The gravel bar has continued to erode since the incident, said Fraser, who planned to check the area out on Thursday.

“We just hope no one tries to swim out to the little bar.”

Some posters on sport fishing discussion sites suggested the cause of the incident was someone digging out a channel on the sand bar, maybe to keep fish cool, which eventually caused it to give way to the force of the river current.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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