Line stretches with the weight of a substantial fish. Visions of big lake trout accompany the rapid retrieval of monofilament.The fish nears the surface, where fading light reveals the vague silhouette of something big and dark. The scene unfolds like a low-budget horror film:the lone angler plunges his hand into icy water to grasp the trout by the gill plate, but, instead, pulls a long, eel-like thing from the dark hole one quickly surmised to be a conduit to the underworld. He tries to throw the serpentine creature to the ice, but the long-finned tail wraps swiftly around his arm. Face contorted with fear, he stumbles back, trying to shake loose the menacing monster.
Such a nightmare could continue with the wide-mouthed creature clamping down on the jugular and sucking life from our hapless angler, but, as anyone intimate with burbot virtues will attest, this is no nightmare. Hidden under the burbots rough exterior is delicious, firm, white flesh! . Beauty, however,is in the eye of the beholder. I wouldn’t want to find one in my bed, but its handsome, barbel-adorned mouth, deeply mottled brownhide, and eel-like tail, with full fin running down back and belly, make it a unique, exquisite fish. All it takes is a big mouthful of ling meat to turn what might be perceived as ugly and undesirable into a delicacy.
The Burbot (lota lota) is the single surviving freshwater member of the codfish family. Widespread throughout Eurasia and North America, it has a number of common names, including ling-cod, freshwater cod, eelpout, loche, maria, methy, and lawyer.
Besides their snake-like appearance, burbot are especially repugnant to many people for their heavy layers of slime, which is actually a protective coating designed to help retain body warmth in extremely cold waters. “They’re pretty different. Most people think they’re incredibly ugly, because of the slime on them and those tails that wrap right around your arm when you catch them-that’s how they got the name “lawyer”-because of the opinion some people have of barristers,” laughed Karl Knaupf, an avid northern Lower Peninsula burbot angler.
In the state of Michigan, burbot are found throughout Lake Superior, most of northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and in deeper inland lakes such as Torch Lake, Portage Lake and Crystal Lake, as well as in some river systems.
At present there is no limit on the number of burbot that may be taken with hook and line, and fishing for lawyers is legal year around.
Considered a prime food fish in Minnesota, the species known in Latin terms as Lota lota is celebrated in the Land of 10,000 Lakes with typical Finnish flare and a number of festivals, as well as with plenty of “lutefisk”, a Scandinavian lawyer recipe made from soaking the fish in lye.
Grinned Knauf, “Or try them battered with Drake’s Fry Mix-good stuff.
Michigan’s state record burbot, caught in 1980 from Munuscong Bay in the Upper Peninsula, weighed 18.25 pounds.