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They’re Creepy and They’re Kooky
By Noel Vick with On Ice Tour
Often disparaged, seldom celebrated. They go by the name eelpout,
burbot, ling, and lawyer; technically, they’re freshwater cod. In
Minnesota, On Ice Tour’s home turf, eelpout is most common.
The bearded wonders are frequent byproducts of hardwater walleye and
lake trout trips. But the time has come for eelpout to share or possibly
steal the limelight. And this is why…Slimy pound for slimy pound,
eelpout are ice fishing’s most awesome fighter. These are your guys
if battles and wars are true measures of hardwater experiences.
They get big, really big. The varieties of eelpout seen littered
about the ice aren’t the ones we’re after (killing ‘pout for any purpose
other than consumption is foolhardy and illegal). 10’s, 12’s, and
15’s exist, and we have ways of finding them. Eelpout feed when others
don’t. Walleye activity peaks at dawn and dusk with sporadic runs
overnight. Eelpout are night owls. Like thieves, they do their
best work under the cover of darkness. The dead of winter is their favorite
time of year. Eelpout party on when many gamefish seasons have closed
and panfish enter a mid-winter funk. The snakelike critters actually
spawn during February and March. And when warming water temps stimulate
species like largemouth bass and bluegills, eelpout go nearly dormant –
call it a reverse biological clock.
Tastes good when properly prepared. “Give me a break,” you might
be thinking. Gourmet chef, Ineke Leer preaches the following: 1.)
Place your eelpout on its pale white belly and fillet its “back straps”
– trace the spine and rib cage. 2.) Skin each fillet. 3.) Cube
each fillet into two-inch chunks. 4.) Boil a pot of water.
5.) Drop the cubes into the pot. 6.) Remove the cubes when they turn
white and flaky. 6.) Melt a bowl of butter and sprinkle in some fresh
garlic. 7.) Dip and eat. You’ll no longer regret the fact that
lobsters live off the coast of Maine. Home on the Range For the most
part, eelpout are fishes of big water. They’re also contained to
the upper states and Canada, which bodes well for ice anglers. The
Great Lakes and Lake of the Woods are famous for growing obnoxiously large
‘pout. Deepwater is another common denominator. Eelpout thrive, oxygen
permitting, in depths of 30, 40, 50-feet and beyond. According to On Ice
Tour’s Tommy Skarlis, “Eelpout love deep and hard-bottomed places.
The best ‘pouting holes are covered with sand or gravel.” Deep offshore
humps top the charts. Large and small, Tommy seeks out humps that
crest at 20 to 40-feet of water and are surrounded by seriously deepwater.
And forget about the breaklines, because time and time again the fastest
action occurs right on top. The base of fast breaking points and
bars can also produce. Set up camp right where the break levels off
and becomes a flat, again, not over the break itself. “My best eelpout
spots double as late summer walleyes spots,” says Tommy’s partner Chip
Leer. “I suppose those depths are cooler in the summer and warmer
in the winter.” Shallow flats that adjoin a significant break are an exception
to the rule. Here, nocturnal eelpout roam depths of only 5, 10, and
15-feet of water.
Chip says, “I see this happen on Leech Lake all the time. Shallow
sand and gravel flats adjacent to the basin and ones north of Walker Bay
(an incredibly deep bay) kick out eelpout in the middle of the night.”
Rigging for ‘Pout
Fear not size. Monstrous eelpout have giant pie holes and voracious
appetites. But don’t work an oversized lure with vigor. Yes,
eelpout like big eats, but they favor slower motions.
Numero uno in Tommy’s book is a Hot Yellow/Glow Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub –
jig weight ranges from ¼ to 3/8th-once depending on depth.
A whole fathead is the meat on Tommy’s hook.
Chip favors a Glow or Glow Rainbow Northland Fire-ball Jig. With
it, eelpout are drawn to a seemingly innocent lift and fall, lift and fall-type
jigging pattern. Like Tommy, Chip also sticks a whole live minnow
on his jig.
In ‘pouting, bright green, chartreuse, and glow are the only recognized
colors. And if you hit the ice carrying only one jig, make sure it
glows like the dickens.
Noise is another motivator. Occasionally, Tommy abandons his
jig in favor of a Lindy Rattl’r Spoon. To it, he adds the severed
front half of a minnow. Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle…pause…whack!
The wide profile of a Northland Fire-eye Minnow (Glow Perch or Glow
Rainbow) is Chip’s choice when he wants to spoon ‘em up. Fluttering
on a free fall, Fire-eye Minnows are well received by eelpout. Chip
boosts its potential by threading two or three Buck-Shot Rattle Beads up
the line before tying.
“Glow makes them go.” We can’t stress this enough. There’s
never been a ‘pouting experience where non-glowing lures outperformed glowing
ones. So give ‘em a direct and extended blast of light. Re-glow
your lures every ten minutes or so if all’s quiet – it will eventually
pay off. And you might want to experiment with Northland’s new Fire-Light
Glow Sticks…we’ll be using them this winter.
Both Chip and Tommy maximize their resources by using a remote tip-up
while jigging. And dark times call for bright measures. Finicky’s
Fish Factory – the reigning king of setlines – signals biters by simultaneously
unfurling a flag and tripping a dual-bulb light. Below it, the boys
fix a single hooked, three or four-inch sucker minnow, shiner, or chub.
Eelpout struggle like sportfish so they need to be tackled with serious
equipment. The 36-inch, medium-heavy Dave Genz Signature Lightning
Rod gets the nod. Genz’s baitcasting model offers the strength to
bring titans up, yet provides enough sensitivity to detect a “slurp”.
Team the ultimate ‘pouting pole with a reliable and durable Abu Garcia
5500C3. Constructed with steel and brass parts, these reels stand
tall on the frozen tundra.
Fill your spool with a low-stretch superline such as Fireline Micro
Ice. The 10-lb. test/4-lb. diameter and 14-lb. test/6-lb. diameter
line weights can horse-up eelpout of any magnitude.
Mysterious. Grotesque. Unwanted. Whatever your preconceptions
of eelpout, set them aside long enough to give ‘pouting a chance.
Even their loudest critics will crack a smile after waging war with a lunker.
On Ice Tour is an intensive effort directed at expanding the sport
of ice fishing. Cofounders Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis offer public
seminars and kid’s clinics; appear at in-store events; exhibit at sport
shows and ice fishing competitions; broadcast a weekly radio show and conduct
hands-on product demonstrations. On Ice Tour produces an annual ice
fishing publication (On Ice), and they can be found on the Internet at
Special thanks to On Ice Tours Sponsors
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