Meet the Burbot  (lota lota) – A Winter Fish

Burbot (also referred to as ling cod) were historically an ecologically important top predator in Lake Windermere.

Burbot (also referred to as ling cod) were historically an ecologically important top predator in Lake Windermere and were important for First Nations peoples.  More recently, burbot have significantly decreased in Lake Windermere and the Kootenay region of southeast BC.  As a result of these declines, they are considered a species of regional concern in the Columbia River watershed.  Protection of this species’ habitat in Lake Windermere is therefore important.  Scientists found juvenile burbot in Lake Windermere in 2002.  When scientists looked for the fish again in 2007 they didn’t find any.  If their population levels become too low, it might not even be possible to recover this species through interventions such as fish stocking.

What do they look like?

Burbot look a little funny to anglers who are used to the size and shape of trout and salmon.  Burbot are long and skinny with a long chin-whisker, making them look a bit like a cross between a catfish and an eel.  They have small fins relative to their body size, which means they are adapted to living near lake and stream bottoms and aren’t strong swimmers.  They have brown mottles (spots) on their skin.

Can I catch them?

Because their numbers are so low, Lake Windermere’s fishing regulations specify that you can fish for burbot as catch-and-release only.

Would I want to catch them?

Burbot are desirable as a food source for many people around the world. In Finland, its eggs are served as caviar. For First Nations peoples in the East Kootenay region, the burbot has both historical and cultural importance. Many tribes fished for burbot throughout the Kootenays and used them as a dietary staple in winter. In the early 1900s, many settling families in Windermere depended on catching burbot to make it through the winter as well.  Ice fishing for burbot served as a social activity on Lake Windermere in winter from the 1900s to 1970s.

Burbot Fun Fact

Studies of newly hatched burbot in Columbia Lake identify that the baby fish remain sedentary on the rocks for at least 5 days after hatching, at which point they start a unique behaviour of spiralling up towards the surface and sinking to the bottom.  This “wriggling” continues for about a week, after which they start swimming further afield and begin feeding.

If you see a burbot during the fishing derby, please let the Lake Windermere Ambassadors know by emailing or call 250-341-6898.