By Jeremy Smith
Burbot, aka eelpout, are misunderstood and maligned. Historically, they’ve suffered the label of writhing tubes of ickiness, despite pulling hard when hooked and tasting scrumptious. They are still sometimes tossed unceremoniously and illegally onto the ice to freeze and rot.
Thankfully, the burbot fan base is growing.
Let’s catch these freshwater cod through the ice during this prime period.
Sandy breaks are key
Years in pursuit of ’pout have led to the conclusion that sharp, sandy breaks seem to provide the most consistent action. Look at a lake map and find the biggest mid-depth flats (about 8 to 15 feet or so). The best flats have weeds.
Then, find the sharpest drops leading off the flats and into deeper water.
I’ve had good catches on shallower parts of flats, too, on the edges of weeds. But sandy drop-offs usually produce best.
Searching new spots is hard to do by yourself. It’s nice to have four people. Drill holes in different depths – as shallow as 12 feet, down to 30 or so. We don’t like to go much deeper than that, to avoid causing barotrauma to hooked fish.
Tackle and presentation
We search pretty fast until we start catching, using heavy jigs and spoons mostly – although my favorite daytime eelpout bait is the VMC Hot Skirts jig in 3⁄8- or ¼-ounce. At night, glow is a must, and I use something like a 1-ounce glow Crippled Herring. There are actual trout and ’pout spoons being made, and they work well, too.
I carry fathead minnows in a Bait Puck and put two or three on the hook. A gob of meat produces bites.
Here’s the go-to jigging style: Pound the bottom, then lift the bait about 6 inches. Lift and drop, lift and drop, then bang-bang-bang pound it on the bottom. Shake it while it’s on bottom. Hold it still for a bit. Every once in a while, raise the rod over your head so the bait comes up 6 feet or so and do some jigging up there in case a fish is higher up the break.
Bites can be weird. Burbot often approach a bait and rub into it. You might feel it moving your line before it bites. When a burbot eats the bait, sometimes it’s just heavy and other times it’s a good “boomp” like a bass taking a jig.
When I feel my line moving, I subtly shake the bait in place, hesitate for a second, shake it, then pause again. I’m sort of holding in place but gently moving it most of the time. Sometimes the fish will just take it; other times you have to tease it into it.
Time of day
Eelpout spawn in late winter/early spring. In central Minnesota, it’s typically around the middle of March.
Sometimes, a week or two before spawning time, there is a good daytime bite. Close to spawning, it can be all daytime. Other than that, the best bite is normally at night. There are windows throughout the night, with some activity at dusk. I really like to fish for them an hour after dark. Then there are little flurries throughout the night.
Part 2: the hookset, fight, and landing ’pout.