What's In a Name?
Burbot, a.k.a. Eelpout: from a French word meaning "mud" or
"mire", but might refer to the barbel on the burbot's chin
Lota lota (low´-tah low´-tah) from the
French word for codfish
Where Do They Live?
The burbot is a cold-water species and can be found in most of Minnesota's
northern lakes and rivers, including Lake Superior. It is present but
not common in prairie sites and parts of the lower Mississippi River.
Burbot are not present in waters that typically exceed 21° C (69°
F) during the summer. In streams, young burbot seek out shallow waters
that have vegetation and debris. As they grow they move to rocky riffles
and then on to pools or under banks that are cut from below by the passing
How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?
Burbot get as large as 800 mm (32 in) in Minnesota, but typically they
are less than 700 mm (28 in) and weigh 2.7- 3.6 kg (6- 8 lbs). The Minnesota
state record for this fish is a little less than 9-kg (19 lbs 3 oz).
It was caught in Lake of the Woods. Since this fish lives a secretive
life, it easily reaches the ripe old age of 10-15 years.
What Do They Eat?
This is one of the many voracious predatory fish in Minnesota. They
eat mostly other fish. Depending on where they live, these might include
sculpins, yellow perch, walleyes, troutperch, or lake trout. They also
eat fish eggs, clams, and crayfish. Young burbots eat small crayfish,
mayfly larvae, and other aquatic insects.
What Eats Them?
Young burbots are a common prey for many other fish, such as smallmouth
bass, yellow perch, and even smelt. In lakes, small adults are prey
for lake trout. During the ice-fishing season, when they are very active,
burbot often are caught by anglers fishing for walleyes. Some anglers
won't touch a burbot. They cut their lines and discard the fish not
realizing that burbot is a tasty relative of the Atlantic cod.
How Do They Reproduce?
The spawning season for this fish is very unusual. It spawns during
mid-winter into early spring, before the ice is off the water. Burbot
spawn in pairs or sometimes in a ball of many fish. The spawning site
is usually in fairly shallow water (less than 5 m deep) over sand or
gravel bottoms. There is no nest built and there is no care for the
eggs or the newly hatched young. After releasing the eggs and sperm
the fish thrash about scattering the eggs, which later fall to the bottom.
A single female can lay as many as 1 million eggs, depending on her
size. The embryos develop for 4-5 weeks in the cold water and hatch
at the tiny size of 3-3.5 mm (less than 0.15 in)--one of the smallest
of freshwater fish larvae.
Conservation and Management
Burbot do not have special conservation status in Minnesota and are
not actively managed. However, they are a big winter hit in Walker,
Minnesota. Each year the city hosts the International Eelpout Festival
on Leech Lake. More then 2,000 anglers try to bring the biggest burbot
up through the ice.
History of Minnesota Fishes
Photographs by Konrad P. Schmidt and Donald Biemborn
Text by Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic Program