Ferocious, aggressive and awkwardly flexible, eelpout are remarkable predators that have become one of my favorite species to target through the ice. These Ultimate Fighters swing with heavy fists. Once they realize they've been hooked, hold on, things are about to escalate quickly!
The fight was what first got me hooked on this misunderstood water dragon. Hooking into just a small-to-medium (schmedium) sized pout you’d swear that you were pulling up a 27”+ walleye. The combination of their hefty guts and the rockstar-esque head banging is sure to put a smile on even the burliest of beards. That being said, I don’t just do it for the fight; I do it for the love of burbot.
With a single whisker under its chin, just like I had up until my mid-twenties, I can't see myself connecting with any other species of fish on a more personal level. They proudly rock a beer-belly for Pete's sake. If I could share bunk beds with one, I would. Swapping stories until we fell asleep, both dreaming of that next bacon cheeseburger… Even our sleep schedules would conveniently line up as they are the Night Owls of the fish community.
Never eat right before going to bed? Eelpout disregard the advice from all of those fancy nutrition magazines, regularly opting for the late night snack run instead. While you can catch the occasional pout during the day, the prime bite occurs after dark and well into the night. During daylight hours I seek out deeper water in the 30-50 foot range at the bottom of the break near the deepest holes in the lake. As the evening progresses, I will gradually work my way into shallower water until I'm fishing on top of the hump/flat that levels off in 10-20 feet of water. Focus on fishing the very edge of the top of the flat before it breaks off into deeper water. Hard, gravel bottomed humps are king, especially in late February and March when eelpout spawn on bigger bodies of water. Don't overlook deep weed edges at the bottom of steep break lines during those midwinter months.
I prefer using jigging spoons that are at least 5/8 oz all the way up to 1 1/8 oz depending on how deep we are fishing. You want it to be heavy enough to allow you to pound the lake bottom, stirring things up and calling those nosy burbots in from a distance. My go-to jigging spoon is called the Trout-N-Pout made by Big Nasty Tackle. It has a relatively compact profile for its weight, providing the perfect balance of bottom pounding ability with the necessary flutter/wobble for enticing the picky biters. Green Glow and Glow Blue are tough colors to beat. Local pout expert Jason Rylander put it best, "I have been playing with larger profile baits and having real nice success. Again glow is key, but these fish are not afraid to go after a big offering". These particular spoons also have built in rattles for added attraction. Tip them with a matching pair of shiner heads and you're in business, the business of burbot, which is an outstanding business to be in.
Keep tight to bottom, burbot primarily feed near bottom. I like to “pound bottom” several times to stir things up, promptly afterwards I will lift my spoon up 6-10” off of bottom and dance it in place, making the 2-3 shiners heads do a tantalizing dance as they disperse scent and vibration into the water. The majority of the time your rod will load up with dead weight as you go to lift your presentation off of bottom. That being said, don’t neglect to keep a close eye on your flasher. Some of your bigger bites from the night could very well come through as a large, active blob on the Vexilar that will quickly pounce on a glob of goodness slowly raised up and placed in front of their face. After they bite, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Never leave a man behind. It used to be very common to see the random burbot lying slaughtered on the ice, frozen and wasted. This is an illegal act, one of which is very ignorant and frowned upon with any species and eelpout are no different. They provide exceptional table fare! Boiled or deep fried, burbot are known as the “poor man’s lobster” for a reason. If you aren't going to take the time to clean what you catch, let it go for another person to enjoy the epic battle that ‘pout offer. I realize there is no limit on burbot, but let's practice selective harvest. Keep the males if possible and let those big ladies swim.
Respect the ‘pout. You're sure to gain a new found appreciation for these leopard printed hand bags with shoulders after hooking up with one!
2 guys with Burbot:
Jason Rylander (left) is a good friend and local fishing guide for “Northcountry Guide Service”
in Bemidji, MN. On the right is Garett Svir. Photo credits: Brett McComas/HSM Outdoors