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 shakeloose 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 findone 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.
They'll eat just about any organic bait, but prefer live or dead minnows. Chumming with a handful of salted minnows can attract foraging ling. One effective bottom rig consists of an egg sinker, barrel swivel, and singlehook or quick-strike rig imbedded in a 3- to 6-inch minnow. A ling quick-strikeset is two hooks in series. One is placed behind the minnow's dorsal fin, the other in its mouth. Let the egg sinker rest on bottom. Use an outfitthat allows letting out slack on the strike. A slow, deliberate pull on the line indicates a hit. Ling are not known to rush a meal, so let out a generous amount of slack before setting the hook less with a quick-strikerig, more with a single-hook setup. Don't worry if you set too early; ling are tenacious and usually give you a second or even third chance. Once hooked, though, even large ling score poorly on fighting ability, giving only the odd tug as they're hauled up rotating in a circle to the surface.
There are certain outdoor spring rituals that most Michigan residents participate in at one point or another-there's maple trees to be tapped and morel mushrooms to be discovered. There's wild turkeys to cajole and fish to be caught-fresh steelhead in the rivers, brown trout and spring salmon in the bays, and lake trout in the shallows.
But what kind of spring-fever crazed lunatic would brave the icy elements of a frigid late winter night to enjoy another spring ritual-sitting on a hard bucket on top of a foot or more of hard water, wildly flailing a fishing rod with a vibrantly glowing lure in an attempt to lure a slimy eel-like creature that looks like something from a grade B science fiction movie?
A lawyer fisherman.
Lawyers, an elongated fish usually in the vicinity of 1 to 3 pounds which are also called burbot, vary in color from a mottled green or gray to black with a cream colored belly, huge glowing eyes, and eel-like tail.
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.
Often caught as an incidental species by whitefish and lake trout anglers, burbot have until recent years, rarely been deliberately targeted by large numbers of anglers.
Normally a denizen of waters at least 100 feet deep, lawyers emerge from lairs under rocks on early March evenings in the northern Lower Peninsula, later in the UP, their minds set on lawyer love. At this time the fish can often be found on the bottom of waters 85 to 35 feet deep near tributary streams, where eggs are expelled into rocks or gravel covered by light layers of moss by the females, then fertilized by the much smaller males in a spring spawning ritual that, depending upon weather conditions, can last several weeks.
The eel-like creature can be lured with heavy 1 oz. leadhead jigs tipped with dead chub, fathead or shiner minnows, white Mr. Twister body baits, or large Swedish Pimples or silver Flatfish.
Offering a scented bait a burbot is attracted to by green glowsticks often makes the difference between one or two lawyers and a bucketful.
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.