Catching Burbot Easiest During Winter

By on February 25, 2016
A burbot caught on Grand Traverse Bay during the burbot spawn in March. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

The lota lota is one of the least known fish species we have in the Great Lakes region. Depending on where you are from, you might call them burbot, eelpout, lawyers, ling, or even something else. This fish is often misidentified and misunderstood. Sometimes it’s confused with a bowfin or just wrongly considered a “trash” fish based on appearance alone.

They may be ugly, slimy and writhe around like an eel. But they deserve some respect both as a species and as a sport fish. They need access to cold deep water year round. So your best bet to find a burbot fishery are large, deep inland lakes or deep bays on the Great Lakes. Popular places include Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Superior and Leech Lake in Minnesota, which is home to the annual International Eelpout Festival. A little research will turn up any known burbot opportunities in your area.

Burbot are most active during the winter so, typically, most burbot are caught through the ice. The burbot bite really ramps up in late February to mid March as they congregate and move in shallow to spawn on sand and gravel. When I say shallow, I mean that as a relative term on the fishery. Some places may be less than 15 feet while others like on Grand Traverse Bay may be as “shallow” as 80 feet. Local knowledge on areas and depths for the particular burbot fishery is very important. You’ll also want to spend your time out there in the evening and on into the night. Burbot are very sensitive to vibrations and smells so they often feed under the cover of darkness.

While finding them can be a little tricky, catching them is not. They aren’t picky eaters and will readily take both live and dead bait. A whole or even a piece of a bait fish hooked onto a jigging spoon will do the trick. Cut bait and heavily scented soft plastics are also productive. Keep it as close to the bottom as possible and make contact with it once in awhile. The vibration will help to call any nearby burbot in and adding glow to the presentation never hurts. Tip-ups and any other rig you can come up with to present some bait near the bottom will also put burbot on the ice.

There’s also no need to be finesse with your tackle here. Heavy jigging rods spooled up with braid can be used to muscle burbot to the surface. Even in the clearest water, they won’t be line shy, especially at night. Depending on the fishery, fish over 10 pounds aren’t uncommon, so it is best to be prepared.

The next best thing to catching burbot is eating them. They are a freshwater cod and have a super mild flavor. In my opinion, they are the best-tasting freshwater fish out there. Chunked, boiled and served dipped in butter make them the “poor man’s lobster,” but they are also excellent deep fried. Whatever you do, just eat them fresh and if you have a bunch share with your friends. They don’t hold up to freezing for some reason.

If you live in one of the northern states, you owe it to yourself to get out and try this at least once. It is one of the more unique and addicting ice fishing bites out there.

Top image: A burbot caught on Grand Traverse Bay during the burbot spawn in March. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

About Jeff Elliott

Jeff Elliott is a 2014 Bassmaster Team championship qualifier. He has 75 tournament wins, including the 2012 Detroit Lions/Kevin VanDam Charity tournament. He is a seven-time points champion and a Bust’in Sticks TV show champion.

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