Yes the burbot or eelpout, has surged in popularity. It’s rare today to see them left littering the ice anywhere in ice country.
They can be challenging to catch at times, but also become aggressive during the prespawn-spawn season in late February and March. They give a spirited account of themselves. They’re beautiful to behold, at times with boldly distinctive leopard spots. And, harvested wisely and prepared properly, they’re great on the table—another of our many renewable fish resources. And as is true with other sportfish, releasing the bigger fish helps to sustain good fishing, while we keep smaller fish for the table.
There are a lot of great ‘pout anglers around today. In my estimation, though, no one has better captured the nature of the fish and fishing for them than longtime In-Fisherman friend and contributor Jeff Matity.
Fishery technician, teacher, longtime fishing guide from near Regina, Saskatchewan, Matity is the original ‘Pout Man Perfecto, a student of the fish who has spent countless hours fishing for them and watching how they respond to lure presentations on an Aqua-Vu camera. Just as importantly, though, he’s also spent countless hours in his role as scientist, demystifying their habits as they move and interact with each other and other fish below the ice.
Matity many years ago described “drive-by” and “belly-sweeping” behavior when a heavy lure is pounded into the bottom to attract them. Pounding bottom has long been the main presentation move to attract fish and often to trigger them. Sometimes fish come right in and eat the lure or bait. Often, though, a fish or several fish swarm the lure, swimming by close enough to be felt, sometimes tapping the lure with a pectoral fin, often doing this several times.
Matity: “When that happens I dance the lure on the bottom, and fish usually respond in one of several ways: (1) They nose into within 6 inches of the lure, do a nose-stand and also do a spread-eagle thing with their pectoral fins (probably to intimidate the critter). Then they either maul the lure or they leave. (2) If they don’t bite they may also do a belly sweep, touching the bait with their belly as they swim by. It’s another form of swim-by. Anglers easily feel this. Setting the hook often snags fish in the stomach.”
Matity often sets a deadstick rod with a lure in a hole near where he pounds bottom to attract fish. His favorite bottom-pounder-trigger lure is a 3/4-ounce ReelBait Flasher Jig, in a glow color, baited with a strip of cisco belly or some other fish portion. He lifts the lure 2 to 4 feet off bottom and lets it thump back down into the bottom, raising a ruckus and sending bottom material flying. When a fish moves in, as noted on electronics or an underwater camera, he may dance the lure on the bottom—or he might inch it slowly up a foot or so and up to 2 feet.
The purpose here isn’t, however, to cover in totality everything that’s already been written about the nature of this beast and how to fish for them (and where). We can get into that again soon enough. It is a curiosity to highlight how far Matity has gone to push the bottom-pounding envelope to attract and trigger fish. He calls it “bombarding the abyss.”
He has tinkered with a drop-shot rig consisting of a 3-ounce bell sinker, tying in a plain hook 24 inches up from the sinker, dressed with a white Berkley MaxScent Bluntnose Minnow. Matity: “Pounding bottom with the sinker certainly brings fish in, but they experience target confusion, not knowing exactly which target to bite. So we went back to using a heavy ReelBait Flasher Jig instead of the bell sinker. Or we added a hook to the bell sinker.”
One might ask, is there a point at which burbot become intimidated or turned-off by a bottom disruption?
Matity: “Well, if there is, we haven’t found it yet. We also work with a Super Drop Shot rig, consisting of a 1-pound mini-cannonball that has an 8-inch Berkley Saltwater Grub skewered onto a 10/0 Gamakatsu Siwash hook up above the sinker. Fish often start showing up quickly, often in groups. In 20 years of filming burbot under the ice, I’ve never seen such aggression and determination to protect territory than when this super rig is punching holes halfway to China.
“Of course hookups are rare—although we do catch some big pike on this option. Sure works to bring fish in, though, and at that point you can get them to go on a more standard presentation.”
The next step in this bombing progression?
Matity: “That would be a 4.4-ounce Pearl-colored Bondy Bait MiniWobbler. The bombarding ability of this lure is epic. It lands and sits right-side up, allowing the nose to dig sediment when danced on bottom. Big ‘pout show up like mad and often pin it against the bottom, hooking themselves before we hook them. Pike show up, too. Of course, it takes a heavy-power rod to dance this thing. We use an HT Blue Ice Trout rod and a reel with 65-pound Sufix 832 braid, with a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader.”
There’s a curious nature to a lot of what transpires on the ice, in this case, bordering on what some might consider a seeming “theater of the absurd.” Yet it’s all part of the ice world we love.
There’s a lot of great material in this annual guide to tactics and techniques for a host of favorite species. We never quit learning, as instructed by the industry’s top writers, working with many of our sport’s greatest anglers. Keep it simple. Catch fish and have fun. And harvest selectively. Hope you have a great season on the ice.
Editor’s note: Jeff Matity and his brother Jason run Matity’s Get Fishing, a promotional team for various companies, helping to teach about fishing (matitysgetfishing.com).