The ling or eelpout is without a doubt a disgusting, repulsive, annoying, slimy, smelly and unattractive fish in the sea. Despite these negative qualities, it has a delicious lobster-like taste and boasts its own annual festival near Walker, Minnesota. Why? The eelpout may be ugly, but its redeeming qualities far outweigh any appearance deficiencies.
Eelpout, also known as spineless catfish, lawyer or burbot, tend to reside mostly in the deeper waters of clean cold Northern lakes. Their appearance is part eel, part catfish, sporting one single chin whisker known as a barbel. Its physique is lean and mean with considerable strength, challenging anglers with an audacious game of hide-and-seek. Its primary draw for many anglers is the ease with which they are caught. During the winter months, eelpout relocate into water 25 to 50 feet deep for spawning. As a result, anglers can expect to catch large numbers of these homely swimmers, often weighing in the double digits.
Early evening and after dark are prime times for successful eelpouting. These ugly creatures of the deep are known carnivores; if its fishy and fits in their mouths, they will eat it. While this makes baiting them somewhat easier, it is this trait which also makes them an unwelcome guest to other anglers, as they tend to steal bait. Like other nocturnal creatures, eelpout prefer to sneak up on their victims while they rest.
The strength, depth and aggressiveness of this species require stronger equipment than most game fishing. Stronger lure combined with leaders of at least three feet and a swivel will keep the catch online and prevent lure from twisting with the fish. Glow hooks and rattle spoons with minnows top off the lure, which is then allowed to free-call to the bottom. The lure mingles with the muck and is then snapped back to the surface, at which point an eelpout may already be on board. During the spawning period in late February, a catch of 100 or more is not uncommon, weighing on average between 3 and 8 pounds.
Those who love the ling are welcome to pay its tribute at the annual International Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake in Walker, Minnesota. Three full days commemorating the ugliest fish in the sea begin with an Opening Ceremony, complete with Torch Lighting. Entrants are encouraged to use their imagination when constructing their fishing shelter, as prizes are awarded for the most lavish structure built on the lake. Extra points may be earned if the shelter sports a logo from one of the sponsoring companies of the tournament. Prizes are also awarded for the single pout with the most weight, for the most combined pout tonnage by a single angler and for most combined pout tonnage by a team of anglers.
Few creatures are as unappealing, yet offer so much in the spirit of fishing. There is nothing refined or fancy about fishing for eelpout; it is simply fun. For those who like to fish, enjoy the outdoors, and catch a lot of fish without regard to species, the eelpout is a beautiful thing indeed.