Burbot

Common name

Burbot

Scientific name

Lota lota 

Fish family

Gadidae 

Also known as

ling, freshwater cod, dogfish, lush, loche, freshwater eel, American burbot, eelpout, ellpout, freshwater eel, lawyer, maria, thin-tailed burbot

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What they look like

Perhaps Washington's most peculiar freshwater fish is the burbot, commonly called freshwater ling. The burbot is the only freshwater fish that is a member of the Cod Family. The word burbot is derived from the Middle French bourbotte from the verb bourbeter, to wallow in mud.

Burbot have a body that is solid brown, yellow, or black or darkly mottled with irregular blotches. The belly is cream or yellow. Depending on the surrounding aquatic environment, some burbot found in mud-bottom areas may be a uniform brown color, while other fish that live predominantly over a hard-bottom can be purplish black, or black in color. The burbot resembles an eel more so than the other freshwater fish. It has numerous very fine and very difficult to see scales except in large specimens. Most specimens appear and feel scaleless when handled, like a catfish or an eel. Burbot have bands of fine teeth on its upper and lower jaws. Burbot have a large single chin barbels and two smaller ones protruding from the nostrils which they use for detecting food. Its fins are soft, and the large dorsal, caudal and anal fins (more than 1/3 of its total body length) have a dark, submarginal band, while the edge is bright yellow or orange.

Breeding adults and juveniles are similar in color and appearance to adults.

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Where they live

Burbot are found in lakes and large, cool rivers, preferring water colder than 65 °F. They have been caught in brackish water and biologists have found burbot at depths of 698 feet. A preferred habitat is under rocks, among roots, or in holes in banks. In winter, the deeper water becomes oxygen depleted and burbot move to shallower water in search of food. In summer, the burbot may move into shallower water at night to search for prey.

Burbot are found in several central and eastern Washington lakes. The populations are down in some waters, with more restrictive rules implemented to help them recover.

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What they eat

Burbot eat mostly only other fish, but they will also consume aquatic insects, plankton, crustaceans and fish eggs. Juveniles under five years old will mainly eat insects, crayfish and other invertebrates until they are large enough to be successful predators.The barbel and the pelvic fins are used to taste food before ingestion, even ejecting a food item from the mouth and passing it back to the pelvics several times before finally consuming it. Young burbot are also eaten by various larger fish.

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Life cycle

Typically, burbot living in colder regions will grow slower and live longer than those in warmer regions. By the age of 10 the average burbot will be about 24 inches in length. Most individuals do not live beyond the age of 15, at which time they average 28 inches. Their life span can be up to 20 years. The burbot has been reported to weigh as much as 24 pounds and measuring up to 43 inches long. Female burbot grown larger than males, and often mature earlier. Burbot usually attain maturity between 3-4 years of age.

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Spawning

Burbot spawn in the winter, typically under the ice. Spawning sites are usually at depths less than 10 feet, over sand or gravel near the shore or on shoals. Males arrive first on the spawning grounds, followed in a few days by the females. Breeding takes place at night and starts when a group of burbot (up to a dozen) form a moving, wriggling ball near the bottom. The females that are ready to release eggs, and the males that are ready to fertilize them, press toward the middle of the crowd. The eggs will rest on the bottom unattended and without care until hatching between 30 and 71 days later (depending on water temperature; the colder, the slower). Up to 3,000,000 eggs can be produced by one fish.

Newly hatched burbot are only about 1/8 of an inch long, are colorless, transparent and without a yolk sac. They are unrecognizable as a burbot until they are almost a half inch long, at which time they will have developed their fins and trademark chin barbel. Many will reach this length by early summer.

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State Record

17 lbs. 5.92 oz. caught in Bead Lake, Pend Oreille County by angler Mike Campbell on April 24, 2004

World Record

24 lbs. 12 oz. caught in Louise Lake, Alaska by angler George R. Howard in 1976

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