Burbot Fishing Techniques

By: Linda Gallagher

There are certain outdoor spring rituals that most Michigan residents participate in at one point or another-there’s maple trees to be tapped and morel mushrooms to be discovered. There’s wild turkeys to cajole and fish to be caught-fresh steelhead in the rivers, brown trout and spring salmon in the bays, and lake trout in the shallows.

But what kind of spring-fever crazed lunatic would brave the icy elements of a frigid late winter night to enjoy another spring ritual-sitting on a hard bucket on top of a foot or more of hard water, wildly flailing a fishing rod with a vibrantly glowing lure in an attempt to lure a slimy eel-like creature that looks like something from a grade B science fiction movie?

A lawyer fisherman.

Lawyers, an elongated fish usually in the vicinity of 1 to 3 pounds which are also called burbot, vary in color from a mottled green or gray to black with a cream colored belly, huge glowing eyes, and eel-like tail.   We are going to talk about some burbot fishing techniques.

Recognized by a number of other names, including ling, lingcod, eelpout, cusk, and loche, burbot are a species of freshwater cod native to the waters of the Great Lakes.

burbot fishing techniquesBesides their snake-like appearance, burbot are especially repugnant to many people for their heavy layers of slime, which is actually a protective coating designed to help retain body warmth in extremely cold waters. “They’re pretty different. Most people think they’re incredibly ugly, because of the slime on them and those tails that wrap right around your arm when you catch them-that’s how they got the name “lawyer”-because of the opinion some people have of barristers,” laughed Karl Knaupf, an avid northern Lower Peninsula burbot angler.

In the state of Michigan, burbot are found throughout Lake Superior, most of northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and in deeper inland lakes such as Torch Lake, Portage Lake and Crystal Lake, as well as in some river systems.

Often caught as an incidental species by whitefish and lake trout anglers, burbot have until recent years, rarely been deliberately targeted by large numbers of anglers.

Normally a denizen of waters at least 100 feet deep, lawyers emerge from lairs under rocks on early March evenings in the northern Lower Peninsula, later in the UP, their minds set on lawyer love. At this time the fish can often be found on the bottom of waters 85 to 35 feet deep near tributary streams, where eggs are expelled into rocks or gravel covered by light layers of moss by the females, then fertilized by the much smaller males in a spring spawning ritual that, depending upon weather conditions, can last several weeks.

The eel-like creature can be lured with heavy 1 oz. leadhead jigs tipped with dead chub, fathead or shiner minnows, white Mr. Twister body baits, or large Swedish Pimples or silver Flatfish.

Offering a scented bait a burbot is attracted to by green glowsticks often makes the difference between one or two lawyers and a bucketful.

“It’s nuts to be out there waving around a glow stick in the middle of the night when it’s all of 10 degrees, but it’s a lot of fun. Once you hit a school of lawyers coming in to spawn, you can catch fish one right after the other until your arms are worn out,” noted Knaupf.

A predator fish which is thought to compete with whitefish, lake trout, brown trout, and salmon for forage fish, the Michigan DNR actively encourages anglers to pursue the burbot, which although believed to be a long-lived fish, grows very slowly. At present there is no limit on the number of burbot that may be taken with hook and line, and fishing for lawyers is legal year around.

Considered a prime food fish in Minnesota, the species known in Latin terms as Lota lota is celebrated in the Land of 10,000 Lakes with typical Finnish flare and a number of festivals, as well as with plenty of “lutefisk”, a Scandinavian lawyer recipe made from soaking the fish in lye.

Grinned Knauf, “Or try them battered with Drake’s Fry Mix-good stuff.”

Michigan’s state record burbot, caught in 1980 from Munuscong Bay in the Upper Peninsula, weighed 18.25 pounds.

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