Catch a burbot this winter

Similar to how perch were sometimes disrespected by anglers when I was growing up, the same could be said about burbot. I can remember fishing as a kid and there were times when somebody caught a burbot and it was left on the ice, “for the fox”, I can remember being told.

Thankfully, things have changed. Today, we enjoy some of the best burbot fishing in North America in northwest Ontario, particularly on Lake of the Woods, where walleye anglers run into them quite frequently in the centre section of the lake.

Burbot are a freshwater cod with nice white flesh. I have only eaten them a couple of times so I’m not an expert on cleaning them but they were easy to clean. They have a good strip of flesh along their back where most of the meat is located. When we did it, we were told to boil them in 7-UP or Sprite, then dip them in butter. Sounds questionable, I know, but they turned out fine. If I was going to compare them to anything, they are similar to lobster more than anything else. I’m sure there are plenty of good cooking instructions to be found online for anybody interested.

Sean McAughey with a nice burbot from Lake of the Woods.

Burbot spawn in late February or early March, under the ice, on rocky shoals. Large groups of these fish will mingle together when they spawn and they are actually quite aggressive so you can catch a bunch of them if you find a good hump or point where they are congregated.

When I have fished for them, I’ve done the best using a heavy jigging spoon, like a ¾ ounce Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon that makes some noise. I’ve crashed it and bounced it around on the bottom and they’ll just come in and smoke it. It’s fun.

Burbot have a good nose on them so you definitely want to tip you spoon or jig with some meat. Usually a couple of frozen shiners gobbed onto the treble hook of the spoon works great. That’s all I have ever done. Evidently, they like to eat their food off the bottom because you seldom catch them above the bottom like you will with lake trout or walleye and the ones that I have cleaned are always full of crayfish. I’ve even found a few rocks mixed in with the crayfish in their stomach contents, which I have never seen in any other fish.

In 2016, the Minnesota State record burbot was caught on the American side of Lake of the Woods, a monster weighing 19.67 pounds. I have seen several fish around 10 to 12 pounds, but anything in the teens is a trophy.

Depending on where you live, burbot are known by more different names than any other fish that I can think of. Around northwestern Ontario many folks call them lawyers, not to offend any of my friends who practice law. In Manitoba they are commonly known as mariah and in Minnesota most anglers refer to them as eel pout.

If you want to try something different on the ice this season, consider giving burbot a try. You can usually find them between 30 and 40 feet of water and they bite pretty good at night. In fact if you fish your favourite walleye spots at night you stand a good chance at catching a few of these unique fish. They have sandpaper-like teeth, similar to a bass so you don’t have to worry about cutting your hands up while dealing with them.

The Bassmaster Elite Series seasons starts up this week down in Florida at the St. John’s River so I’m down here trying to find a few bass to bite. The tournament starts on Thursday and runs through Sunday. A good start to the season would make me very happy! All of the action will be available on throughout the event.