Mark Spitzer loves fish and he loves to fish. As a nationally known author (Seasons of the Gar, Return of the Gar), writing about fish and their issues is what he does best. In this blog series, Spitzer shares his experiences traveling the American West while researching a select number of freshwater fish that are often considered monstrous or freaky or hideously grotesque. Don’t miss the full version of this incredible tale, which can be found in Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West (heading downstream in March 2017).
If the cleaning crew at the Villa Inn knew I had butchered a burbot on the toilet tank lid in my motel room, I probably would’ve been asked to leave. I went to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah/Wyoming border for the annual Burbot Bash because thousands of these mucousy predators had invaded the Green River system. The idea is that if you hold a contest, they will come. Why? To control the numbers of a fish commonly known as eelpout, lawyer, ling, etc., since they’re eating up the trout and salmon which bring in the big tourist bucks.
But the thing is, ever since the Burbot Bash has been in existence, sportfishing for this species has become a money-maker as well. Every year, hundreds of anglers come from all over the world to haul thousands of these cod-like fish out of the lake. In the winter it’s done through the ice, and in the summer it’s done on boats. It’s a novelty, and the tournaments allow for camaraderie, raffles, prizes, a fileting competition, and ultimately, a fish fry in which thousands of these tasty suckers get cooked up in cornmeal and handed out for free.
And it’s working. With both state fishery agencies working together, along with the City of Manila’s Chamber of Commerce, businesses that supply prizes, and support from surrounding communities, including students and teachers, the necessary percentage of burbot is being eliminated every year in order to keep things balanced. Like competition for crayfish, which you can clearly see in the intestines of this sacrificial offering (which I ate).
Anyway, after fishing all weekend, I finally got my burbot through a highly unorthodox way. To find out how… see Chapter 2 in Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West.