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Dokken: Minot angler catches pending North Dakota state record burbot

Once confirmed by Game and Fish, the 19-pound, 8-ounce burbot will be the new state record, topping the existing state record, an 18-pound, 4-ounce, 41-inch burbot caught June 4, 1984.

ND Record pout.jpg
Shane Johnson of Minot with the the 19-pound, 8-ounce burbot he caught Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, while fishing in the Garrison Dam Tailrace. The big burbot measured 41¾ inches and is North Dakota's pending state record for the species. It's expected to be confirmed as the state record burbot sometime around Feb. 1.
Contributed/Shane Johnson
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – If you’re only going to catch one fish all night, it might as well be a big one.

Such was the case for Shane Johnson of Minot, who is destined to become North Dakota’s new “Ling King.”

Ling, of course, is North Dakota-speak for burbot, that slithery freshwater cod species with beady eyes known by numerous other names, including eelpout, lawyer (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one) and mariah (in Canada), among others.

Fishing in the Garrison Dam Tailrace on Wednesday night, Jan. 4, with Brandon Gullickson of Minot, Johnson landed a behemoth burbot that measured 41¾ inches and weighed 19 pounds, 8 ounces.

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Once confirmed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, Johnson’s burbot will be the new state record for the species, easily topping the existing state record, an 18-pound, 4-ounce, 41-inch burbot caught June 4, 1984, in the Knife River by Orland Kruckenberg of Hazen, N.D.

Johnson’s burbot is a special fish, in other words. A once-in-39-years kind of special fish.

It’s also just shy of the Minnesota state record, a 19-pound, 10-ounce burbot caught by Brent Getzler of Roosevelt, Minn., in December 2016 on Lake of the Woods.

Yowza.

Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said he expects Johnson’s burbot to be confirmed as the new state record sometime around Feb. 1. Game and Fish implemented a “waiting period,” of sorts, on confirming state record fish after a 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye caught from the Heart River in April 2019 was later found to be foul-hooked, disqualifying it as the new state record walleye.

Power said there “certainly doesn’t appear to be any issues” with Johnson’s pending state record burbot.

Johnson, who told the Herald he caught the burbot while jigging off one of the wing walls below Garrison Dam, said he wasn’t sure how deep he was fishing but guessed the water was 10 to 20 feet deep. The Tailrace area remains open throughout the winter and is a proven go-to spot for burbot anglers.

Here’s how Johnson described the catch in a Jan. 4 Facebook post:

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“Just notched my name in the history books!

“What started out as a downright cold miserable foggy night. Ended up as a night I’ll never forget with my good buddy Brandon Gullickson.

“I only had one bite all night long. It turned out to be the ND State Record Burbot!

“Just met with the game and fish at a certified scale.

“Officially 41¾ inches long and weighed 19 pounds, 5 ounces.

“Just need to send in my whopper card from two certified scales and wait for the Fisheries Division to process this as the new state record.”

Image makeover

Few fish species have undergone an image makeover like the burbot. Time was, at least in Minnesota, when many anglers would throw burbot on the ice in disgust and leave them lay. That’s not only illegal, it’s also unethical.

These days, burbot have become a target species for many anglers, especially late in the winter, when the fish stage en masse to spawn under the ice. And what’s not to like? They grow big, they fight hard and they taste great, especially chunked up and boiled and served with melted butter.

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“Poor Man’s Lobster,” they call it, and it’s a real delicacy.

Burbot also are an “indicator” species, requiring cold, high-quality water to survive and thrive. They’re most commonly caught in the winter, usually through the ice but also in open-water areas such as the Garrison Dam Tailrace.

As further proof of the burbot’s image makeover, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 2021 elevated the burbot from its list of rough fish species to its list of game fish species. North Dakota upgraded the burbot to a gamefish species in April 1993, and the current limit of 10 fish daily and 20 in possession was implemented April 2004.

It’s hard to say whether more anglers are targeting ling in North Dakota, Power of the Game and Fish Department said. March is still a popular month for “Ling Flings” in the Tailrace, he says.

“I definitely have noted more appreciation for the fish,” Power said.

As reported in the Target Walleye newsletter, Johnson was quoted in another Facebook post as saying he’s thinking about doing a coffee table mount of the record-breaking burbot with glass sides and a glass top.

It would be a fitting way to remember a fish of a lifetime.

Not bad for a slow night of fishing.

All hail the “Ling King.”

Editor's note: While Johnson initially said the burbot weighed 19 pounds, 5 ounces, the Game and Fish Department confirmed the weight at 19 pounds, 8 ounces. This story was updated to reflect the change on Monday, Jan. 30, the day Game and Fish confirmed the record-setting burbot.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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