Burbot – The Cod’s Cousin from the Great Lakes.

This is what a Burbot looks like.

bucket o’ burbot

And This is what a happy Burbot fisherwoman looks like.

Before I met Maple I had never gone burbot fishing, I had never actually seen a burbot fish. What’s a burbot you ask? Let some great folks in Wisconsin enlighten you:

“These elongated, cylindrical, freshwater codfishinhabit most waters of Alaska, Canada and northern United States as well as corresponding latitudes of Eurasia. Despite the burbot’s homely form, its meat is palatable and nutritious. A delicacy in Scandinavia, the burbot’s liver contains oil said to rival that of the saltwater cod. Many knowledgeable fishermen savor burbot. When boiled and buttered, the sweet flavor of burbot has earned it the title of “poor man’s lobster.” – http://www.seagrant.wisc.edu/greatlakesfish/burbot.html

The poor man’s lobster indeed. Boiled burbot is delicious. And anyone who knows Maple knows how near and dear all things Scandinavian are to his heart. It was inevitable that we go burbot fishing together, but, as it turned out, Maple didn’t have to do much. One fishing trip and I was hooked.

Burbot fishing in the summer and fall is probably most comparable to crab pots. With crab pots you put out your pots in the morning and come back at night, hoping for crab. With burbot you throw out lines with bait attached in the early morning and come back 24-hours later to pull your lines in. Burbot are bottom feeders (and, as we discovered on one fishing trip, cannibals) so the smellier and more rotten your bait is, the better.

The amount of meat you can get off of one burbot is impressive. On a 5 pound fish you’ll probably get about 4 pounds of delicious, nutritious meat.

Below are some photos of recent burbot trips taken this summer. Burbot fishermen are very secretive about their ‘spots’ so all I can say about our burbot fishing is that it takes place on the beautiful, quiet and misty Tanana river.

Burbot fishing in the winter is a slightly different affair, and involves drilling holes in the ice with augers. It’s a blog post I’m already looking forward to writing, and photos I’m already looking forward to sharing.

Bait a hook.

Tie it tight.

Throw a line out.

Like a boss.

Burbot set all set. Saturday afternoon.

8 am Sunday. Pulling lines in.

Huge burbot. Happy Maple.

Cleaning burbot…


Sometimes your hooks have burbot on them. Sometimes the hooks have lost their bait (some clever fish ate them off) and sometimes the hooks still have all their bait and it’s apparent that you just threw your line into the wrong part of the river. And sometimes nature is awesome like a Bill Nye video. The last time we went burbot fishing we caught the huge burbot in the photos above, but while cleaning it Justin and our friend Joel found something grotesquely cool. It turned out a smaller burbot had bitten the hook first, and was hooked, digesting the bait when a bigger burbot came along and ate the baby burbot but then got caught on the hook as well. By the time we cleaned the bigger burbot the acid in it’s digestive track had eaten all the skin off the baby burbot. We were on the fence for about 15 minutes as to whether we were going to eat the baby-skinless-burbot, but chose eventually to keep it for more burbot bait. Now that I’ve read more about burbot on-line, I realize that I might have missed an opportunity to hawk a really rare Scandinavian delicacy…

Cannibalized burbot.

Close-up of baby-cannibalized-burbot.

Finding this baby burbot inside a bigger burbot (tongue-twister, what?) made me think on the way home about all the stories behind all the empty hooks we pull back…There’s a Children’s Illustrated book in there somewhere.


4 thoughts on “Burbot – The Cod’s Cousin from the Great Lakes.

    • Thanks! I think Maple and myself might have just watched that video (the one for Winter fishing?) last night. We’re setting lines out next week, hopefully we’ll catch a few burbot!

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