By Jeremy Smith
Five or six years ago, I went all in with ice fishing for burbot. Since that time, my appreciation for these fish has deepened to the point where they’re one of my favorite species. They are dogged fighters, they grow big, and their coloration patterns are beautiful.
Beyond that, they are fantastic to eat, making the underappreciated eelpout a valuable resource worth protecting.
In the last column, we considered how to find eelpout under the ice and jigging styles that get bites. Now, let’s talk about setting the hook, fighting, and landing big ’pout.
Read the bite, set the hook
As we mentioned last time, the bite of an eelpout can take time to complete – almost like a mating dance. ’Pout can surprise you and bite without any forewarning, but more often, they approach the bait and make contact with it, or brush your line.
When I feel something, I gently pull up on the rod and let it load. I’m hoping the fish has at least grabbed the bait, and when you apply a little pressure, it usually will suck the whole thing in so it doesn’t get away. A bait adorned with multiple minnows can help the fish decide to eat it.
Don’t be quick to hammer the hook home. If you rip a hookset as soon as you feel anything, you can tear away the bait and that might cost you that fish. Then you’ll have to reel up and put new bait on. If you feel the weight and lift up to load the rod and the bait comes out of the fish’s mouth, usually if you drop it back down and shake it, the fish will grab it again.
Winning the fight
Burbot can really fight when they want to, typically battling toward bottom after they get pulled up near the hole. Sometimes you hook ’em and they’re like a sack of potatoes, just kind of letting you pull them up. But that only lasts for a little while. Once they realize it’s a fight, it’s on!
The hardest part is when you get them close to the ice. They do cartwheels and give it their all to get back down. A big ’pout can be all you can handle, especially with standard walleye-type rods.
I use the St. Croix Custom Ice Trophy Taker rod, which can handle heavier baits up to an ounce. That rod has enough flex to help keep the fish hooked at the hole, and enough power to win the battle.
When you get the head of a fish in the hole, if the hook is in a good position to allow it, you can lip it and lift it up that way. Or you can get your hand around the back of its head, grab tight, and lift.
If you’re not going to eat the fish, get a quick photo and slide it back down the hole.
Note: check out a video showing burbot meandering around baits, bumping the line, and more via bit.ly/daytimeburbot