POUTY FACE ONLY A MOTHER COULD LOVE
There are fish, ugly fish, and damn ugly fish- then there is the burbot. Burbot are hard-fighting but much maligned predators that make fine table fare. Think of the burbot as the only freshwater cod. There are other names for it, my favorite being Eelpout, and it is closely related to the saltwater common ling. It is most often fished and caught through the ice. Many people think God was just playing in the lab one day and crossed a catfish and an eel and sent this fish to earth to entertain fisherman in the winter. It has a trademark wide mouth and you need to remember, its upper and lower jaws are filled with small teeth.
Generally, the Burbot can be found globally in freshwater north of 40°N. In North America, that means they range from the Seward Peninsula in Alaska to New Brunswick along the Atlantic Coast in large, cold rivers, lakes, and reservoirs including the Great Lakes and their major tributaries. They are popular in states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Michigan. In the summer, Eelpout are as deep as they can get, even burrowing into silt, mud, sand and gravel bottom. During winter, they migrate to near-shore reefs and shoals to spawn, preferring spawning grounds of sand or gravel in icy water. The Average length of and adult burbot is 16 inches, but there are big ‘pouts in the 40-50 inch category that can weight upwards of 20 lbs., with the IGFA record being 25-2 caught in Canada.
Burbots are tenacious predators, and will attack fish up to its own size. They are, however, slow swimmers, relying on camouflage and burrowing skills to ambush baitfish. As a result of this behavior, ‘pout will bite lures, making them pretty easy to catch. Eelpout are edible, but in some
waters they are vulnerable to overharvesting so when fishing them, consider keeping a few for the table, and releasing the rest. They are often served deep-fried, but burbot meat tastes very similar to lobster, which is why it is often considered "poor man's lobster".
The best areas to fish for burbot are shallow areas such as points and main-lake shoals in up to 8 feet of water, particularly off south-facing shoreline. These are good spawning areas, usually also within 100 yards of deeper water. Burbot adults don’t spawn every year. During ice fishing season, which coincides with the spawn, there are pre-spawn fish, spawning fish, and non-spawners. This later group will, however, be mixed in with spawning fish as they often are nest guards. As such, they still attack lures that invade their territory. The typical technique is to fish a jig on bottom, lifting the jig in a varied motion up to 2 feet off bottom. Heavier jigs up to
3/4oz. are often used tipped with cut ciscos. A stand-up style jig in glow colors is popular, as are jigs with an underspin flasher. For the past 30 plus years, one of the most popular ice fishing events in the USA was the International Eelpout Festival, three days in February where crowds exceeding 10 times the population of host city Walker, MN gathered on Leech Lake, for a festival named for the ugly bottom-dweller. Unfortunately, the festival was cancelled for 2022 and its future is unclear as the town struggles to meet the logistic needs of such a large number of festival goers.