Besides the strong start to the winter fishing season, Lake of the Woods has been in the news the past couple of days for the potential new state record eelpout caught Monday north of Pine Island.
Brent Getzler of Roosevelt, Minn., was fishing Monday when he caught the big ‘pout, which weighed 19 pounds, 11 ounces on a certified scale at Lake of the Woods Foods in Baudette, Minn.
Dennis Topp, assistant area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Baudette, just happened to be in the store at the time and got a firsthand look at the big fish. He also helped Getzler with the paperwork required for potential state record fish.
By pure coincidence, Topp was in the same store in February 2012 when Aaron Guthrie of Bemidji brought in the 19-pound, 8-ounce eelpout that stands as the current state record.
DNR fisheries managers in the past decade or so have expressed concerns about what seems to be a declining abundance of eelpout on the big lake. If my experience on Lake of the Woods is any indication, there aren’t as many eelpout as there once were.
Either that, or I’m just losing my ‘pout touch. Time was I couldn’t keep them off my line when I fished Lake of the Woods through the ice.
Eelpout are notoriously difficult to sample in standard fisheries assessments so they remain a fish of mystery in many ways. That being said, I knew Getzler’s ‘pout would be at least the third straight state record eelpout to come from Lake of the Woods so I checked with Mike Kurre, who handles the DNR’s state record fish program, to see what he had on file for state record eelpout.
Kurre said there was nothing on file before 1980, but since then, five of the past seven state record eelpout — assuming Getzler’s fish becomes the official new record — have come from Lake of the Woods.
Here’s a closer look at Minnesota’s state record eelpout since 1980, based on the info Kurre provided:
- Feb. 3, 1980: 14 pounds, 1 ounce, Deer Lake in Itasca County, Leonard Lundeen of Duluth.
- March 7, 1982: 14 pounds, 1 ounce, Lake of the Woods, Norman Flagstad of Roseau, Minn.
- Jan. 22, 1983: 17 pounds, 8 ounces, Trout Lake in St. Louis County, Allen Lindgren of Virginia, Minn.
- March 30, 1998: 18.3 pounds, Lake of the Woods, Robert Wilmes of Nisswa, Minn.
- Feb. 17, 2001: 19 pounds, 3 ounces, Lake of the Woods, John Galles of St Paul.
- Feb. 24, 2012: 19 pounds, 8 ounces, Lake of the Woods, Aaron Guthrie of Bemidji.
- Dec. 19, 2016 (unofficial): 19 pounds, 11 ounces, Lake of the Woods, Brent Getzler of Roosevelt, Minn.
Eelpout, also commonly known as burbot, are freshwater cod and have earned a long-overdue respect among anglers in the past decade or so not only for their fighting qualities, but their taste. Despite their size, eelpout seem to be a swimming package of guts and fins and most of the meat is found along the backstrap portion of the fish.
The meat is nice and white with a firm texture and excellent tasting either deep fried or boiled and served with melted butter. Speaking from experience, eelpout also makes a fantastic main ingredient in fish chowder.
By any name, eelpout weren’t even close to a desired catch when I was a kid ice fishing on Lake of the Woods. “Lawyers,” is what everyone in my family called them, and it would be several years before I knew the species’ proper name.
Rob Buffler and Tom Dickson, in their excellent rough fish book called “Fishing for Buffalo,” say the burbot has some two dozen nicknames, including ‘pout and dogfish. In North Dakota, they’re commonly called “ling cod,” and Canadian friends call them Maria, though I have no idea why.
Other nicknames cited in “Fishing for Buffalo” include cusk, fish ling, mother of eels, maria loch, lush, wethy, loche, barbot, mudshark, skin ling, spineless catfish, gudgeon and mudblower.