Invasive But Tasty: Ice Fishing Derby Hooks 1100 lbs of Burbot

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Despite raging wind, cold, and a general lack of solid ice on Flaming Gorge during the Burbot Classic 2018, many anglers snagged enough of the invasive burbot to overfill an ice cooler.

BUCKBOARD MARINA — During Sunday morning’s weigh in, competitors in the ice fishing derby turned in 483 burbot, which amounts to about 1,100 lbs of what some describe as a slimy, stinky–but tasty–fish.

A Wyoming Game and Fish employee gets a handful of slime while scanning a burbot, seeing if one of them has a $10,000 tag. None of them did.

The Burbot Classic demonstrated the culinary versatility of “ling,” another name for burbot. A Sunday morning fish fry featured the fish fried, smoked, sauteed, and cooked into a ling chowder.

Most folks say they’re a slimy fish to clean, but once it’s cooked up it reminds one a bit of lobster.

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“I think they’re pretty tasty,” said Les Tanner, the owner of Buckboard Marina and one of the chefs for the feast. “Nobody has thrown it back at me.”

Les Tanner, the owner of Buckboard Marina, keeps an eye some “ling” in the smoker.

Why Burbot Fishing Helps

Burbot were illegally introduced into Flaming Gorge Reservoir nearly two decades ago.

John Walrath, regional fisheries biologist with Wyoming Game and Fish, said that the burbot population was exploding after they were discovered in 2006.

Burbot were illegally introduced into Flaming Gorge almost two decades ago.

The fishing derbies on the gorge are helping to keep the burbot numbers in check.

“They are a swimming mouth and stomach. They caused the crash of the smallmouth bass population in 2-3 years on the Wyoming side [of the gorge]” said Walrath.

Walrath said they went from seeing smallmouth bass at intervals of 3, 6, and 9 inches to only seeing them at 12+ inches (i.e. too large to for a burbot to swallow).

Burbot were preying upon the smaller fish in the reservoir while simultaneously gobbling up the crayfish, a main food source for the smaller fish.

It was a double whammy and has contributed to the downward trend of trophy fish gorge-wide.

John Walrath, regional fisheries biologist with Wyoming Game and Fish, takes out a lake trout for weighing and measuring.

How a Lake Trout Derby Helps

The Burbot Classic added a lake trout class this year, which Walrath said will help the trophy fish population in general.

The goal isn’t to get rid of the lake trout, but to decrease the numbers of the small ones, said the fisheries biologist.

“The trophy fish, such as rainbow and kokanee salmon, will have more food available and the trophy fish will achieve a faster growth rate,” said Walrath.

The two strategies are meant to counteract the current decreasing trend in trophy fish, which is being seen reservoir-wide.

Burbot were weighed for team totals, and measured for largest and smallest fish.

An Ice Fishing Derby with No Ice

The derby teams turned in 86 lake trout this year, with many of the teams meeting their limit.

Most of Flaming Gorge Reservoir was free of ice this year, compared with the previous year that sported a heavy layer of it.

Anglers reported that they were doing their ice fishing at the northern confluence and the Blacks Fork River and the Green River.

Read more about how to catch burbot here.

2018 vs. 2017

Burbot Classic 2018: View of Flaming Gorge Reservoir from Buckboard Marina. Note the lack of ice in this area for the ice fishing derby!
Burbot Classic 2017: The gorge sported an ice layer thick enough for ice huts and four-wheelers last year.