Minnesota Profile: Burbot (Lota lota)
Eelpout (Lota lota)
Eelpout, Maria loch, skin ling, spineless catfish, lawyer. The name burbot comes from the Latin barba, or beard, referring to its single chin whisker, or barbel.
Found as far south as northern Missouri but mostly in deep, clean, cold lakes of the North. In Lake Superior it has been found as deep as 1,000 feet.
Looks part eel, part catfish. Its serpentine body has sleek tan, olive, or dark yellow skin marked with dark splotches.
First fish to spawn each year, usually in late January. Spawning burbots move from deep water to the shallows and congregate in a living glob. A dozen to more than 100 burbots form a quivering sphere of tangled bodies and release eggs and milt into the turbulent water.
Closely related to ocean cod, which also spawn in winter. A larger cousin lives in Europe. Some scientists believe burbots were trapped in Minnesota and a few other northern states when an arm of a prehistoric sea receded.
White, boneless meat, liver rich in vitamins A and D. French connoisseurs prize the liver.
Usually caught in winter when it swims to shallower water to spawn. Most catches are by ice anglers using minnow-tipped jigs for walleyes or crappies. Many people despise the burbot for stealing bait, as well as for its odd appearance and habit of wrapping itself around the arm of an angler trying to unhook the fish.
The annual International Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake (Feb. 11 - 13, 2000) pays mock tribute to the burbot. Events include a black-tie dinner on the lake, ice bowling, and the Eelpout Peel-out race. Up to 2,000 anglers vie for a 7-foot-tall trophy awarded to whoever catches the biggest burbot.
--Tom Dickson, DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife staff writer