How to Fillet Your Burbot (Properly)

We’ve finally come out of our ‘seasonably cold’ weather in Fairbanks. Looking back at the last months data, temperatures hovered around -20 most of time which is not good burbot fishing weather! The holes freeze up quickly both on the top and by filling in from the sides. However, temperatures this week hold the promise of our first 30 degree day all winter, and it was time get back onto the ice!

Here's the weather graph of our temperatures since January 1st. Lots of 40 below in there, and not much above zero! These data were pulled down from NOAA from the Fairbanks airport weather station.
Here’s the weather graph of our temperatures since January 1st. Lots of 40 below in there, and not much above zero! These data were pulled down from NOAA from the Fairbanks airport weather station.

When we reached our destination, it was evident the cold snap had¬†thickened the exoskeleton of the Tanana River. The first hole we drilled buried my normal auger bar, but that didn’t worry me! A few pins removed and added, and my 18″ extension was attached. With the entire auger now towering at six feet I was pretty confident I would get through to water. The newly lengthened auger took a some teamwork to make it efficient. For instance, starting a new hole and applying enough downward pressure required one guy on each handle and working at eye level until it had cut deep enough. However, we found water just a few more inches where the old auger hole had ended. We set our lines using the method from last season and walked away with anticipation for the next day.

The next day I returned with a slightly new crew. One of the things I have enjoyed most about burbot fishing is having a reason to go outside for a walk, gathering my own food through the winter, and introducing new people to the experience. Brian, Alison, and their 1-year old pup Rue were great additions on the Tanana.  Rue in particular loved to dig the snow off the closed holes, steal bait, and watch as we scooped slush. A cute pup! To help out their experience, we pulled out a great looking, 30 inch burbot!

The crew looks on as Rue gets in closer for a look. It's a lot of fun having a young dog on the ice!
The crew looks on as Rue gets in closer for a look. It’s a lot of fun having a young dog on the ice!
Rue liked to help "dig" the holes for us, and was very curious about scooping slush.
Rue liked to help “dig” the holes for us, and was very curious about scooping slush.
Group success! The only bad part : I missed the focus on this shot. In my defense I wasn't wearing my glasses. Oops!
Group success! The only bad part : I missed the focus on this shot. In my defense I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Oops!

One of the things I have learned from people as I have talked about burbot fishing to them, is there is a lot of misconceptions on how to clean a burbot. When I was home in Minnesota this Christmas I was fishing for walleye on Ottertail lake, when we pulled a nice eelpout (burbot), through the hole. The guys I was with admitted they had never actually kept and cleaned one. I have had conversations with others who suggest to only remove the meat from along the back, but in fact there is a lot more meat on the fish than that! Contrary to these ideas, cleaning a burbot is not a whole lot different than cleaning any other fish. Here’s a couple of tips:

1) Fillet around the ribs rather than through them and remove the whole fillet from the side of the fish

2) There are some large rib bones that stick perpendicular to the side of the fish, once you are around those you’ll be able to keep all the belly meat

3) When removing the skin from the fillet, hold the knife parallel to the table and then angled slightly down. Rather than push the knife through the fillet, pull the fillet (starting wit the tail end) towards you leaving the knife in place. It will result in NO meat lost EVERY time!! If you try to push the knife through the fillet you will likely cut through the skin and that’s frustrating!

For your information, and entertainment, I’ve put together a 50 second video highlighting these tips, a poor accent, and a slightly dry sense of humor. Good luck getting those burbot!

 

4 thoughts on “How to Fillet Your Burbot (Properly)”

  1. I remember burbotory biology lessons for the Johnson Brothers during cleaning sessions a year or two ago in Perham (Mn). Looks like the apprentice has become the master.

  2. They are still ugly……not as bad as a mud puppy, though! Nice lookin’ fillets, Ian:) That’s a goodly amount of fish tacos, me thinks.

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