Besting the Indiana record for burbot, big time

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Catching a likely burbot record seems like the proper way to close out a year.

That’s what Scott Skafar and neighbor Tom Solomon did on the final day of 2022. Skafar caught what should be the next Indiana-record burbot.

‘‘We just finished up limiting out on jumbo perch and figured we would have some fun [fishing for] lake trout,’’ messaged Skafar, one of the best multispecies anglers on southern Lake Michigan.

They were fishing Saturday out of Portage, Indiana.

‘‘The fish was caught using a Zoom Fluke; we caught a few lakers, as well,’’ Skafar messaged. ‘‘The fish was caught on a three-eighth-ounce jighead with a white Zoom 5-inch Fluke or Jerk Shad.’’

Actually, they caught two burbot with the lake trout. Both were bigger than the Indiana record of 7 pounds, 11 ounces that Larry Malicki caught in 1990. Saro Kevorkian caught the Illinois record of 11 pounds, 12.5 ounces on Dec. 7, 2020, on the North Side.

Because of the holiday weekend, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ office in Michigan City was closed. But Skafar had help from fishing buddy Eric Izynski in his quest to have the biggest burbot weighed on a certified scale.

‘‘Eric knew the seafood counter worker at the grocery store in Valparaiso, Strack & Van Til,’’ Skafar messaged. ‘‘Eric made arrangement for me to get it officially weighed on their scale. He also helped get the measurements and take pictures of the measurements in the parking lot there.’’

It weighed 10 pounds, 2 ounces and measured 32 1/8 inches long with a girth of 16¼ inches. Skafar froze it until he could check it with Ben Dickinson, Indiana’s Lake Michigan fisheries biologist.

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Seems like the right kind of story for one of our most curious fish.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) says this about burbot: ‘‘The only member of the cod family to live solely in freshwater, the burbot is commonly described as a cross between a catfish and an eel. This benthic beast gets its name from the single whisker-like barbel hanging under its mouth.’’

The Illinois DNR’s ifishillinois.org notes that burbot are ‘‘one of only two freshwater fish species (along with northern pike) with a circumpolar distribution.’’

As befits a benthic beast, burbot have many names. ‘‘Poor man’s lobster’’ and ‘‘eelpout’’ are probably most popular. IISG also lists a few of the others: ‘‘The Lawyer,’’ ‘‘lush’’ and ‘‘mud blower.’’

Notable for its orgasmic tone, the reproduction description of burbot at ifishillinois.org includes this: ‘‘Burbot spawn during winter, often assembling in large aggregations. They congregate to form writhing spawning masses of multiple male and female burbot simultaneously releasing sperm and eggs into the water column. They are also known to make a wide variety of vocalizations at spawning time.’’

Maybe that explains the description of feeding on ifishillinois.org: ‘‘Burbot are opportunistic predators that typically feed on fish, fish eggs and crayfish in the Great Lakes.’’

Illinois hunting

Pheasant, quail and partridge seasons end Sunday in the north zone. … The second dove season ends Monday statewide.

Wild things

My first bird of the year was a northern cardinal calling high in a bare tree while I did my first morning ramble of 2024 with Lady, the family mutt.

• So far, no readers have sent reports of snowy owls.

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Stray Cast

In my soccer world, Pelé was a Chinook, Diego Maradona a steelhead and Karl-Heinz Granitza a jumbo perch.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>