Saturday, October 25, 2014

Open water burbot in Wisconsin

Burbot are one of the tougher northern species to track down. Most people who catch them do so through the ice, but my only experiences with them have been during the fall when the water is still open. Two years ago, my friend Josh sent me a message saying if I wanted burbot for my lifelist, I'd better come up near him because they were biting at the lake near his town. What a great friend! :)

Josh was busy and couldn't fish that weekend, but my friend Terry was free, so we made the drive up. The temperature was right around freezing, and there was a decent wind coming across the lake, so needless to say, we were pretty cold. We put out fresh shad on circle hooks and set our rods in rod holders. The first hour and a half we got zero bites, but eventually the burbot showed up. The bite was pretty consistent the rest of the night.

Burbot (Lota lota) - new hook & line species #88

I underestimated how hard it is to get a good photograph with these fish, so I ended up going with the second photo for my lifelist.

It's pretty hard to get Terry to smile in photos, but burbot did the trick! We ended up taking 15 of them home, giving us a pretty decent supply of burbot fillets for our freezers.

Fast forward two years. I had the itch to catch the freshwater cod of Wisconsin again, so Ruoxi, Terry, and Terry's girlfriend Kayla and I met at the same spot. We didn't have any fresh shad this time, so we put out rigs baited with nightcrawlers and vaccum sealed shad instead. While we waited, Ruoxi and I took turns casting swim baits for white bass. We each caught a decent one, and Ruoxi's was extra exciting because it was her first!

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

The only fish biting the baits were bullhead and one random rock bass, and they were all caught with nightcrawlers. The vacuum sealed shad from the store weren't working. There was a dead shad on the rocks, maybe 12 inches long, that had been sitting there for several days. Terry had the bright idea of cutting off pieces of it to use as bait. The rest of us thought it was pretty gross. To our surprise though, Terry and Kayla started to catch burbot!  I swapped out my baits for stinky old shad pieces, and after a while Ruoxi and I each pulled in burbot as well. Success!

Shad (not the vacuum sealed ones from the store) were definitely the key to catching burbot.  The only other important variable was the time of night.  Both in 2012 and 2014, the shad didn't bite until it was completely dark out.  Can't wait to fish for them again someday!