Whether you call them burbot, pout, ling, or my personal favorite—lawyers—eelpout are members of the cold-water cod family. They inhabit deep, clear, cold northern natural lakes with plenty of oxygen content in the depths, where they spend the majority of their time. Sure, you might stumble onto one or two fishing for walleyes in spring, but most of the time, they’re cooling their mottled bodies somewhere deep down below, in 40 feet of water or more. National Geographic once filmed one in 1,300 feet of water on Lake Superior, lying in a wallowed-out foxhole in the basin.
Along about the end of February, pout begin moving shallower, up to the 30- to 40-foot levels, to spawn beneath the ice. That’s when most ice anglers are likely to contact them on typical walleye structure like the tips of points and the tops of sunken islands. Not so coincidentally, that’s also when the community of Walker, Minnesota hosts their annual International Eelpout Festival (February 19-21, 2016), a weekend of fishing, partying and antics enjoyed by thousands of folks looking for something wild and crazy to do in late February. Teams named after eelpout (Pout Busters, etc.) catch eelpout 24 hours a day, dress up as eelpout, drive around in Poutmobiles, and build temporary eelpout fishhouse communities out on the ice.If you can catch walleyes through the ice, you can catch eelpout, with minor adjustments. Use the same rod, reel and line combos you’d use for ‘eyes. For lures, grab a few ½- to ¾-ounce glow-in-the-dark phosphorescent or UV rattling spoons, and tip them with a minnow head. Or a glow Jigging Rapala. Or a rattlebait that makes noise and glows. After all, it’s deep and dark down there, even during the day. Besides, it is very common for the best eelpout bite to occur during the nighttime hours, so you can fish all night in a fishhouse. Or, sleep until the bite begins. When your rattle reels clank, clack and spin, fish on!
Eelpout fight just like walleyes. In fact, it’s hard to tell the difference—until they poke their noses up out of the hole. At that point, their squirming bodies resemble some hybrid cross between dogfish and eels. When they coil their tails snakelike around your wrist, well, you get that same creepy, eerie feeling you get around members of the legal profession. Thus the name lawyers…
Pout are good to eat, although they are a bit on the oily side. Fish boils are perfect. Most folks, however, trim off the backstraps, boil them awhile to remove some of the oil, and then fry them up just like walleyes. Heck, you can have a midnight fish fry right out on the ice. Fix ‘em up…then throw away the fish and eat the charcoal! Nah—just kidding. Pout are a bit chewy, but they taste darned good.
Pout are walleye size: 3 to 6 pounds average, with occasional 8’s to 10’s, and potentially bigger. They’ll give you a real tussel. Catch enough of them, and the whole team eats for free, holding night court beneath the majestic northern lights.