Burbot are fish that don’t generate a lot of buzz, in general, among anglers. That’s because in most cases, they share the same habitats with other, more interesting game fish, like steelheads, pike, walleye, smallmouths or largemouths. Plus, they’re nocturnal, they’re “winter” fish, and they’re not that easy to catch any time during daytime, especially in summer time.
If you haven’t caught burbot so far, they look something between catfish and eel. Photo speaks for itself. But despite their rather ugly appearance, they’re really tasty fish. So, if you would like to try something new, and burbot are on your list, here are a few words about their diet, habitat, and some tackle tips.
Where to Catch Burbot
Burbot are specific to the 40°N latitude, most common in lakes and streams of North America and Europe, quite common in the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie. Although they prefer, and they’re usually found, in cold rivers, lakes and water reservoirs, they can also live in brackish waters. They’re bottom feeders, crepuscular and night hunters, highly piscivorous. They tolerate quite a variety of bottom compositions, their feeding grounds can include sand, silt, rubble, gravel or mud. They spawn during the winter months, when they migrate to shallower waters near shoals, or leave the lakes for rivers.
Since burbot are bottom feeders, evidently you’re going to have to look for them on lake or river bottoms, and during summer, in deeper, colder water substrats. They can live at depths up to 300 m (over 950 ft.). On the Great Lakes, but also in general, the best burbot fishing is done from December to March. Within this interval, they move from the deepest parts of the lakes, to the gravelly and sandy shoals, to reproduce, and they can be caught in a depth range of 50-30ft. So, if you really want to score one or two decent burbots, you kinda have to prepare for some cold, late-winter nights.
Fishing Techniques for Burbot
There are two main fishing techniques for burbot: still-fishing with rather heavy sinkers and stink baits, dead or live bait, or active fishing with heavier lures, of various types. Of course, since burbot are winter fish, ice fishing is another method, which calls for a different approach and tackle, however, baits are the same.
Baits and Lures for Burbot
Since burbot fishing is night fishing, it’s always a good idea to provide some sort of glow-in-the-dark buzz. So, consider using glowing lures, jig heads, or small glow sticks tied near the hooks.
Live bait. Burbot are highly piscivorous, thus many anglers have reported better results with live baits rather than dead or stink baits. If you’re going with live bait, nightcrawlers, whitefish, minnows, eels, crayfish, leeches, freshwater mussels or snails are great choices. Also, whatever small benthic fish (bottom feeders) dwell in the lake or river you’re fishing for burbot, should be an excellent choice. But in general, they’re not very picky when it comes to food. Don’t forget though to check the regulations regarding live bait for in a new area you’re fishing at, though.
Dead baits. Among the dead baits, you can always try any type of fish strips available, like herring, salmon, sucker, carp or liver strips etc. It’s not a bad idea to prepare your dead bait one or two days before, adding some fish attractant (SmellyJelly – Crayfish is a great choice) to whatever fish strips or small dead fish you’re going to use, and letting them imbibe well.
An important aspect to know about burbot is that they will almost always grab their food head first, so, if you using small fish, no matter how you fix them on the terminal tackle, the hook should be near the tail of the bait fish.
Lures. Glow in the dark jigs, spoons and spinners are excellent for catching burbot, if you want to go with lures. For jigs, the classic 3/8 is always a good choice, especially if paired with twister tail grubs – Yamamoto curly tailed grubs are the ones I usually go with, however, small tubes, cover craws, or double-tailed worms work as well. Make sure that any rubber / plastic bait you’re using is glowy. If you’re fishing in deeper waters than 30-40ft., from a pier, from the shore of from a boat, you might want to use heavier jigs, up to 4oz.
Other lures I’ve had great results with were glow in the dark tandem spinners or Cleo spoons or Swedish Pimples.
In general, no matter what lure you use, you will considerably increase it’s productivity and buzz by adding a piece of natural bait on it, whether is a small minnow, a fish strip, a nightcrawler or red earthworm. They have taste organs on the small barbel underneath their mouth, and sometimes they check the lure. If it doesn’t taste right, they will move along.
Tackle for Burbot
Rods. Depending on the fishing method you’re using for catching burbot, you can use different types of rods. For example, if you’re still-fishing and you’re not handling the rod too much, a longer (9’6″ – 14′), slow action rod is better. In case you’re jigging, a shorter rod (6’6″-8′), fast or medium-fast action is best, as it will allow you to feel the jig, or whatever lure you’re using, better. Of course, for ice fishing, you’re going to need a short, ice stick, so a 34-36 graphite rod, with quite a bit of a backbone will do excellently.
Reels. The optimal lb. test line range for burbot is 10-15 lb., therefore, have your rod paired with a small / medium size reel, with a spool appropriate for this line range. Best recommendations I can make here, are Penn spinning reels, such as Penn Battle Spinning BTL5000, or BTL4000, an Abu Garcia Orra SX30 Spinner, or a Daiwa Exceler HA 3500.
Line. As I mentioned above, 10-15lb. test, monofilament, is a good choice for catching burbot. However, if you find a spot with bigger ones, you should go with 20lb. Also, depending on how snaggy the bottom is, braided might be a better alternative in some cases.
Hooks. Burbot have big mouths, so don’t be afraid yo use bigger hooks. No. 4 – 7 should do. However, depending on the bait you’re using, you may need hooks with long or short shank. For example, if you’re fishing with mussels, you’ll need short shanked hooks, while if you’re using fish strips or nightcrawlers, longer hooks with medium or longer shanks are better.
Rigs. When it comes to rigging for burbot, first it’s best to be informed about the rules and regulations of the area you’re fishing at. You may not be allowed to use more than a certain number of hooks, or specific rigs. But in general, the classic rig, with the sinker (4 to 8oz.) at the end of the line and the hook attached a 10 inch leader should do. Since they have small teeth, it’s not bad to have a braided or fluoro leader, as these types of line are more resistant to abrasion. Also, it’s important that the bait lays on the bottom, so using a small sinker on the hook, or a small jig headed hooks is not a bad idea.