Catching burbot is plenty of fun

As the ice lingers on lakes across Sunset Country after a cold snap over the past couple of weeks, there is not much else an angler can do except just keep ice-fishing.
Earlier this week, my friend, Sean McAughey, and I got out to chase burbot—a fish species that’s widely available across Northwestern Ontario.
Perhaps better known by other local names such as eel pout, lawyer, or ling cod, these fish are great fighters and pretty good to eat.
Over the past few days, ATV travel has been pretty good on area lakes. But conditions will begin to change rapidly as temperatures warm up later this week.
I want to be clear that during this time of year, ice conditions can change quickly so it’s important to watch the conditions and don’t travel through any narrow areas that may have current. They will open up very fast.
The bigger lakes, as long as the access is okay, still have quite a bit of ice at this point.
I absolutely love to ice-fish at this time of year but if we feel that conditions are not safe, then walking out sometimes is a good option.
I can remember sitting on the ice long into the night and catching a bunch of burbot back when I was in high school.
It’s been many years since I have fished for them, and only can remember a few incidental catches in recent years when I’ve been fishing for walleye or lake trout, so I was excited to get out and try something new.
When we’re filming episodes for “Fishing with Gussy,” we try to make a story out of each episode, usually showcasing a new tactic or technique to catch fish.
Last week, Sean was guiding some anglers from Wisconsin and they got into a hot burbot bite, so we decided to try them out again this week and film a TV show while we did it.
Though we didn’t catch dozens of fish like Sean did last week, we managed to catch some nice fish and got what I think will be a great TV show in the can.
Burbot are a bottom-oriented fish for the most part—at least when it comes to looking for food. We caught all of our fish jigging spoons tipped with chunks of herring belly right on the bottom; basically bouncing the bait off the bottom.
The fish sometimes would bite when we lifted, but most times they would grab it from the bottom and we would just load up the fish when we went to jig our spoon.
When we cleaned the few fish that we kept to eat, we noticed their stomachs were full of crayfish.
Burbot spawn in the mid-late winter around shoals with gravel and rock (similar to the types of places that lake trout spawn).
It’s been claimed that when they spawn, they rise off the bottom and group up into “balls,” where they will slither around each other. Eggs are dropped and fertilized, then sink to the bottom.
This spawning ritual is what brings these fish into shallower water than they occupy during the rest of the year.
If you’re thinking about fishing spots, the best places are rocky areas with exposure to big water. These types of places will get the most wind, which will keep the bottom clean—making them ideal for spawning habitat because the eggs have a clean bottom to cling to.
For years I’ve heard that burbot are great eating, so we decided to give it a shot. A friend of Sean’s said he just boils 7UP, drops in chunks of burbot, and when it comes to a boil again, takes the fish out.
We did this and added salt and pepper, then dipped the fish in butter.
Some call burbot “poor man’s lobster” and it is quite similar in texture. Not bad eating at all.
I probably would bring a few more spices along next time but it wasn’t bad. There probably are some better recipes out there so we’ll try something a little more advanced next time.
Across Sunset Country, we have many options for fish species to catch, and it’s fun to mix things up and do something different from time to time.
A burbot likely will become an annual tradition for me.