An angler holds up two burbots from the Burbot Bash.
Part of the attempt to at least control the number of burbots, a fish illegally planted in Flaming Gorge, the “Burbot Bash’’ is held each winter.
Last year’s event drew 1,170 participants who caught and kept more than 4,000 burbots. This year, there are three parts to the event—two weekends of fishing and a tagged-fish contest. The first weekend ended Nov. 17. The second will run Jan. 25–26.
Categories are for the most fish, the biggest fish and the smallest fish. The reward for burbots caught by registered fishermen is, when distributed, $100,000.
Burbots are not a native fish to the Gorge and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, in the reservoir they won’t eat. Their only real predators are people with rods, reels and glow-in-the-dark lures. So it has fallen on anglers to catch, keep or kill any burbots caught on the Utah section of the reservoir. Come January, Wyoming regulations will follow suit.
Burbots are an ugly fish with a serpentine-like body. They look like a cross between catfish and eels, with definite fish features such as fins, tail and scales and set apart by a barbel or whisker on their chin, a flat head, an ell-like body and small, sharp teeth.
What makes them a threat to the Gorge fishery is they are tenacious predators and fertile spawners, says Ryan Mosley, project leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. An 18-inch female burbot can release one-million eggs a year, while an 18-inch female kokanee salmon will only release 2,000 eggs a year.
How they got into Flaming Gorge is unknown, but it was done illegally.
They were first found in the Green River drainage in 2001 and in the reservoir in 2006.
“Burbots are native to Wyoming, but on the opposite side of the Divide. It wouldn’t have been difficult at all, maybe a 15 to 30 minute drive,” Mosely says. “Burbots could have been caught on one side of the Divide and released into the Green River drainage. We actually believe there was more than one release because they showed up in a couple of different tributaries around the same time.”
Burbots are found in many waters back East. They are a prized catch, but are not easily caught. Two or three for an evenings work is considered good. That’s not the case at the Gorge. It’s not uncommon for a fishermen, especially those fishing through the ice when the fish are most active, to catch 20 or 30 in an evening.
Fish caught have averaged between 17 and 18 inches. The largest burbot caught was 36 inches and weighed 11 pounds. The world record was set in Canada with a catch that was 25 pounds, 2 ounces.
Special regulations allow anglers, when fishing through the ice, to have up to six lines in the water at one time. Mosley says he’s seen fishermen with one or two lines, “do just as well.’’
The hard reality is burbots are in Flaming Gorge to stay. One concern is the Green River flowing from Flaming Gorge meets the Colorado River downstream that flows into Lake Powell.
Hopefully, Mosley says, “we can rely on the angler harvest to help keep them in check."