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Cold Weather Means Hot Fishing for Burbot

Flaming Gorge Burbot
Flaming Gorge Burbot

Manila -- Interested in catching 25 to 50 fish in just a couple of hours? Believe it or not, those who fish for burbot at Flaming Gorge Reservoir often catch more than that.

Their secret? They fish from boats before the reservoir ices over in the winter. Even though fishing can be fast and furious before the reservoir freezes, few anglers take advantage of this great opportunity.

To catch burbot in open water, take a lesson from ice anglers, and then duplicate what you learn from the deck of a boat or from a good spot along the shore.

While the techniques are simple, timing is critical. The best burbot fishing of the year is starting now. The best time of day to fish starts at sunset.

"Anglers are already catching burbot as water temps drop into the low 50s," says Ryan Mosley, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources project leader for Flaming Gorge and the Green River. "Fishing will get even better when temperatures drop into the 40s."

Where to go

Mosley says anglers are catching burbot in both Utah and Wyoming right now. However, research has shown burbot generally move north, towards the area where water enters the reservoir, before the spawn.

"In our trend studies," Mosley says, "the number of burbot usually increases in abundance in the Inflow Region, including the Green and Black's Fork Rivers, in early November. We believe the burbot caught in these areas are moving north, towards the inflows, to spawn during November and December."

Using tracking studies, researchers with Utah State University have substantiated this assumption. Researchers have tagged several burbot in November and then released the fish in the lower part of the reservoir. The researchers later found the fish, in December and January, in the Green River and Black's Fork arms of Flaming Gorge.

"As November progresses," Mosley says, "I suggest moving north. Try fishing between Lost Dog and Firehole on the Green River arm, or above Lost Dog on the Black's Fork arm. During last fall's netting, good numbers of burbot were found in both of these areas."

To intercept the burbot as they move uplake, Mosley suggests fishing off rocky main channel points, in 20 to 40 feet of water.


Mosley says using the same type of fishing gear you use during the ice fishing season is the key to catching burbot in open water.

"Fishing for burbot in open water is the same as fishing through the ice," he says, "you're just fishing from a boat instead of on a bucket. Make sure you have equipment that's stout enough to provide good hook penetration and that can handle fish that could weigh as much as eight pounds or more."

Mosley says a good presentation to start with is a three-inch curly-tailed, glow-in-the-dark grub fished on a glow-in-the-dark 1/4 to 3/8 ounce jighead. Tip the jig with a small chunk of sucker or chub meat (make sure to leave some space in the hook gap, though). Some anglers also use Smelly-Jelly, in crayfish or another flavor, to add extra attraction to their offering.

After the presentation is ready, drop it within just a few inches of the bottom, and then jig it. When a burbot investigates the bait, hold still until the fish takes it, and then set the hook.

Timing and safety

Mosley says burbot fishing usually gets good right around sunset and then picks up and holds strong for the first few hours after dark. Before fishing at night, it's a good idea to visit the area you’re going to fish during the day. That way, you can get familiar with it before the sun sets.

Mosley encourages you to watch the weather and to not take any unnecessary risks. "Wind and storms can come up quickly at the Gorge," he says. "Take safety gear for everyone. And be sure they know how to use it."

He says lights, both navigational and personal, are also essential.

"The lights you use should be bright enough to light up your boat while fishing and to spotlight the bank and boat ramps when returning after dark."

Mosley says it's also critical to wear warm, waterproof clothing in layers and to take some extra layers with you. "Also," he says, "let someone know exactly where you're going and when you're coming back.

"Finally, if you're not comfortable venturing out on your own, consider hiring a seasoned guide who is familiar with the lake and the fishery."

Burbot contests

Right now is not only a good time to catch burbot, it's also a great time to fish before the 2016 burbot contests start. The annual Burbot Bash will be held Jan. 22 – 24. That event will be followed by the Buckboard Burbot Classic on Feb. 4 - 6.

Both weekends will be similar to what the Burbot Bash has been in the past-each weekend, prizes will be awarded for the most, the biggest and the smallest burbot caught.

Tagged fish contests will also be held. All of the tagged fish will be worth a cash prize. The top prize is a fish worth $10,000.

For more details and other information, visit www.burbotbash.com or www.buckboardmarina.com.