This week’s entry has a dual meaning. I am writing this late in the evening of February 3, 2013. Earlier today we said our last goodbyes to Jim Hudson, a fellow Ice Team member who lost his life in a tragic accident on Lake Superior on January 26, 2013. I had planned to tell you all about the forgotten and under-appreciated burbot, but I can’t help but think of Jimmy… He loved the slimy buggers as much as I do, and would’ve wanted me to let you in on the secret of the often overlooked freshwater cod, so we’ll start there. Burbot, or as many in the north call them, eelpout, like cool deep lakes, and are most active in the winter. In late-February to mid-March while ice still covers the lakes, the burbot move up onto shallow humps or shorelines in search of a good area to feast and prep for their spawn.
Like many fish, the burbot is an opportunistic feeder. They’ve been known to eat anything from small invertebrates to mice. Their main forage is baitfish, and the burbot is a vicious feeder in the darkness. Like walleye, the eelpout relates most often to the lake-bottom, however, when chasing food, the burbot often rides high in the water column.
Burbot can be caught in depths ranging from 2-feet of water all the way out to 60-feet of water through the ice, however, depth isn’t the key, structure is. Flats that hold large pods of bait during the day can be productive, while shallow bars, breaks, rock piles, or humps adjacent to deep water reign supreme after dark.
Simple walleye gear is sufficient for ‘pout. A medium powered, fast action rod, teamed up with an ultralight reel is perfect for the mid-winter beasts. 6- 8-pound test monofilament is usually sufficient. Large jigging baits such as the Lindy Darter or a big Lindy Rattli' N Flyer Spoon are great choices if you’re targeting them after dark. The amazing water-movement and vibration made by these big baits teamed with the weight to help stir the bottom is deadly. Tipping your baits with shiner minnows on each hook on the treble is a proven tactic.
Any extra scent you can get down to the bottom is a plus. Jig often and be aggressive. Calling in one burbot with aggressive jigging often leads to small flurries. Banging the bottom occasionally to stir up the bottom content is a good way to call their attention. When you mark a fish on your Vexilar, slowly lift your bait and keep it moving. Most of the ‘pout you mark are going to smack your bait, and when they do, hold on.
After reading the description of an eelpout, I realize that you’re not jazzed about eating one. However, I assure you, they’re one of the tastiest fish swimming. Cutting out the back-straps of the ‘pout and boiling them in water and lobster boil is one of the easiest methods. For something different, boil them in a mix of water and Mt. Dew or 7up. This is a great way to enjoy “poor man’s lobster”. Once boiled you can dip the flaky white meat in sweet butter and enjoy. The tail-section is best when breaded and fried, sprinkled in lemon, and dipped in tartar.
While writing this and searching through images, I recalled meeting Jim Hudson to fish Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior on January 26, 2005, 8 years prior to his death. It was a frigid and windy morning and we sat inside of a warm Fish Trap all day, chatting and catching everything from bass and coho, to whitefish and burbot. Jim taught me the ins and outs of the big lake that day. I returned the favor that summer when Jim visited me in Bemidji, MN, two weeks before Jim married the love of his life, Hannah. We have fished together on and off ever since, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Jim will be dearly missed, but never forgotten.