They're Creepy and They're Kooky
By Noel Vick with On Ice Tour
Often disparaged, seldom celebrated. They go by the name eelpout, burbot, ling, and lawyer; technically, they're freshwater cod. In Minnesota, On Ice Tour's home turf, eelpout is most common.
The bearded wonders are frequent byproducts of hardwater walleye and lake trout trips. But the time has come for eelpout to share or possibly steal the limelight. And this is why…
Slimy pound for slimy pound, eelpout are ice fishing's most awesome fighter. These are your guys if battles and wars are true measures of hardwater experiences.
They get big, really big. The varieties of eelpout seen littered about the ice aren't the ones we're after (killing 'pout for any purpose other than consumption is foolhardy and illegal). 10's, 12's, and 15's exist, and we have ways of finding them.
Eelpout feed when others don't. Walleye activity peaks at dawn and dusk with sporadic runs overnight. Eelpout are night owls. Like thieves, they do their best work under the cover of darkness.
The dead of winter is their favorite time of year. Eelpout party on when many gamefish seasons have closed and panfish enter a mid-winter funk. The snakelike critters actually spawn during February and March. And when warming water temps stimulate species like largemouth bass and bluegills, eelpout go nearly dormant - call it a reverse biological clock.
Tastes good when properly prepared. "Give me a break," you might be thinking.
Gourmet chef, Ineke Leer preaches the following:
- Place your eelpout on its pale white belly and fillet its "back straps" - trace the spine and rib cage.
- Skin each fillet.
- Cube each fillet into two-inch chunks.
- Boil a pot of water.
- Drop the cubes into the pot.
- Remove the cubes when they turn white and flaky.
- Melt a bowl of butter and sprinkle in some fresh garlic.
- Dip and eat.
You'll no longer regret the fact that lobsters live off the coast of Maine.
Home on the Range
For the most part, eelpout are fishes of big water. They're also contained to the upper states and Canada, which bodes well for ice anglers. The Great Lakes and Lake of the Woods are famous for growing obnoxiously large 'pout.
Deepwater is another common denominator. Eelpout thrive, oxygen permitting, in depths of 30, 40, 50-feet and beyond.
According to Tommy Skarlis, Chip's On Ice Tour cohort, "Eelpout love deep and hard-bottomed places. The best 'pouting holes are covered with sand or gravel."
Deep offshore humps top the charts. Large and small, Chip and Tommy seek out humps that crest at 20 to 40-feet of water and are surrounded by seriously deepwater. And forget about the breaklines, because time and time again the fastest action occurs right on top.
The base of fast breaking points and bars can also produce. Set up camp right where the break levels off and becomes a flat, again, not over the break itself.
"My best eelpout spots double as late summer walleyes spots," says Chip. "I suppose those depths are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter."
Shallow flats that adjoin a significant break are an exception to the rule. Here, nocturnal eelpout roam depths of only 5, 10, and 15-feet of water.
Chip says, "I see this happen on Leech Lake all the time. Shallow sand and gravel flats adjacent to the basin and ones north of Walker Bay (an incredibly deep bay) kick out eelpout in the middle of the night."
Rigging for 'Pout
Fear not size. Monstrous eelpout have giant pie holes and voracious appetites. But don't work an oversized lure with vigor. Yes, eelpout like big eats, but they favor slower motions.
Numero uno in Tommy's book is a Hot Yellow/Glow Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub - jig weight ranges from ¼ to 3/8th-once depending on depth. A whole fathead is the meat on Tommy's hook.
Chip favors a Glow or Glow Rainbow Northland Fire-ball Jig. With it, eelpout are drawn to a seemingly innocent lift and fall, lift and fall-type jigging pattern. Like Tommy, Chip also sticks a whole live minnow on his jig.
In 'pouting, bright green, chartreuse, and glow are the only recognized colors. And if you hit the ice carrying only one jig, make sure it glows like the dickens.
Noise is another motivator. Occasionally, Tommy abandons his jig in favor of a Lindy Rattl'r Spoon. To it, he adds the severed front half of a minnow. Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle…pause…whack!
The wide profile of a Northland Fire-eye Minnow (Glow Perch or Glow Rainbow) is Chip's choice when he wants to spoon 'em up. Fluttering on a free fall, Fire-eye Minnows are well received by eelpout. Chip boosts its potential by threading two or three Buck-Shot Rattle Beads up the line before tying.
"Glow makes them go." We can't stress this enough. There's never been a 'pouting experience where non-glowing lures outperformed glowing ones. So give 'em a direct and extended blast of light. Re-glow your lures every ten minutes or so if all's quiet - it will eventually pay off. And you might want to experiment with Northland's new Fire-Light Glow Sticks…we'll be using them this winter.
Both Chip and Tommy maximize their resources by using a remote tip-up while jigging. And dark times call for bright measures. Finicky's Fish Factory - the reigning king of setlines - signals biters by simultaneously unfurling a flag and tripping a dual-bulb light. Below it, the boys fix a single hooked, three or four-inch sucker minnow, shiner, or chub.
Eelpout struggle like sportfish so they need to be tackled with serious equipment. The 36-inch, medium-heavy Dave Genz Signature Lightning Rod gets the nod. Genz's baitcasting model offers the strength to bring titans up, yet provides enough sensitivity to detect a "slurp".
Team the ultimate 'pouting pole with a reliable and durable Abu Garcia 5500C3. Constructed with steel and brass parts, these reels stand tall on the frozen tundra.
Fill your spool with a low-stretch superline such as Fireline Micro Ice. The 10-lb. test/4-lb. diameter and 14-lb. test/6-lb. diameter line weights can horse-up eelpout of any magnitude.
Mysterious. Grotesque. Unwanted. Whatever your preconceptions of eelpout, set them aside long enough to give 'pouting a chance.
Even their loudest critics will crack a smile after waging war with a lunker.
On Ice Tour is an intensive effort directed at expanding the sport of ice fishing. Cofounders Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis offer public seminars and kid's clinics; appear at in-store events; exhibit at sport shows and ice fishing competitions; broadcast a weekly radio show and conduct hands-on product demonstrations. On Ice Tour produces an annual ice fishing publication (On Ice).