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In the Search of 'Pout

A Classic Tale from 2003

After returning from Mexico on New Years Day 2003, Nick and I were disappointed to learn that so far in the ice-fishing season, Tim and Andy had little to show for their ice angling efforts. Upon our return, we immediately made plans to head out to our favorite lake in search of some hot action. While the main target for Tim and Nick, Andy and myself were the ever so elusive eelpout.

Eelpout, which are more commonly known as burbot, are often called lingcod (which they are not). Ling cod live in saltwater off the British Columbia coast. Eelpout (Lota lota) are the only member of the cod family that spends its entire life in freshwater. Eelpout are found in most of Alberta's lakes, and the best time to catch them is the dark of night, in the cold of winter.

On this particular trip we had all the bases covered throwing out tip-ups in water 5 to 15 feet deep. We were using Acme Little Cleos, Nordex Combo Sonics, and round jig heads. All of the lures were tipped with smelts purchased at the local grocery store. After the tip-ups were set, all we had to do was wait for the action.

Not 5 minutes after we were set up Nick's rod started bouncing. The calling sign of a hungry pike. We all raced over. Me with the video camera, Tim and Andy, ready to land the fish, and Nick to do battle with his first hard water fish of the season. After a short battle full of headshakes and bulldogging runs, the pike was landed.

As soon as we slid the fish back below the depths, there was another pike on the line. Tim had one on! It was obvious these pike were on a feeding frenzy. That day we landed over 10 pike, 7 whitefish, 2 walleye, and several perch. But we had no sign of the elusive eelpout.

School quickly encompassed our lives so we could only daydream of our next day on the ice. This would come two weeks later on a long weekend.

Much more snow had fallen since our initial outing on January 2, but our secret point on Lac Ste. Anne was still accessible. We had the same plan of attack. Although the action was slower, there were still plenty of pike caught in the first two hours of arriving.

After checking one of his tip-ups for bait, and to Nick's surprise, his other line was slack! He quickly set into the fish and was soon into the ride of his life.

The mystery fish bulldogged like no tomorrow, holding on the bottom, running from left to right, not giving up. After a long, hard fought battle Nick landed it. It was the fish we had been praying for, our white whale, the eelpout.



Nick landed this eelpout on a jig head and smelt combo.


Nick caught it on a bright jig head tipped with a smelt. Because the fish had been chewing on the bait for a long time, the hook was deeply lodged inside the throat, and was evident that the fish would die, so we kept it for our fish fry later that night.

For no particular reason, the action had slowed to a halt, until Andy saw his rod moving. We all rushed over. On the end of his line was the White Combo Sonic, the same one I used successfully for goldeye. After setting into the fish hard he was immediately in for the ride of his life. After a battle worthy of Hemmingway, Andy brought up another eelpout! We threw this one back to continue the population, but not before taking a few pictures.

Another Burbot!


Andy landed this big boy on the white Combo Sonic

When weighed Nick's was 7 lbs. and 31 inches long, while we estimate Andy's at 9 lbs. and roughly 36 inches. We still got out many times that winter, and caught plenty more pike, but not another eelpout.


It was a magic day in January when all our dreams came true.

"Eelpout, ling cod, burbot, whatever you want to call em they're a great sportfish"
-Alex Kreis, Fishing Alberta

Trevor Sliwkanich, WesternSportfishing.ca

Written by: Trevor "Eelpout" Sliwkanich

Email: tsliwk@westernsportfishing.ca