By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Miss out on filling your freezer with big game steaks, burger and roasts this fall? Consider fresh fish as an alternative.
As what looks to be a great ice fishing season gets underway, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has implemented generous limits for smaller lake trout at Flaming Gorge reservoir – and declared a free-for-all on burbot.
“They (burbot) are good-eating fish. Some people call them ugly, but I don’t think they’re ugly,” Robert Keith, the Game and Fish’s fish supervisor for the Green River Region told Cowboy State Daily.
With polar air expected to linger across Wyoming well into next week, ice pack is growing on all of the state’s popular fishing lakes. That’s particularly true at Flaming Gorge, which is one of the premier ice fishing destinations for Wyomingites, as well as anglers from surrounding states, he said.
“We’re about a month ahead compared to previous years in terms of ice development,” Keith said.
Fish populations also appear to be robust, so ice fishing is expected to be good in most lakes and reservoirs around Wyoming, he added.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
The exception this year will be Saratoga Lake. The Game and Fish recently killed everything in the lake in order to rid it of illegally-stocked yellow perch.
Burbot are freshwater cod, native to waters east of the Continental Divide, Keith said. They were similarly illegally stocked in Flaming Gorge years ago. However, Game and Fish is taking less drastic measures to control their numbers than what was done to wipe yellow perch out in Saratoga Lake. Instead of killing everything in Flaming Gorge, burbot there may be caught without limit.
“I’ve seen people fill entire sleds with Burbot,” he said. “It’s a firm, white meat, it’s great table fare and can be prepared just about any way you can cook a fish.”
Lake Trout Need Cut Back Too
There’s also an “overabundance” of lake trout in Flaming Gorge, Keith said. When they’re small, they tend to feed on zooplankton – tiny aquatic creatures – and crayfish.
But as they grow larger, lake trout will prey on other fish, particularly kokanee, or freshwater salmon, Keith said. Kokanee are one of the most popular native sport fish in Flaming Gorge, particularly during the summer angling season.
To give the kokanee a better chance, Game and Fish is allowing ice anglers to catch up to 12 lake trout per day, provided that they’re under 28 inches long. The total possession limit for lake trout under 28 inches is 24 fish, Keith said.
“We’re really encouraging people to harvest as many of those smaller lake trout as they can, legally,” he said.
That should not only help the kokanee thrive, it will also help Game and Fish manage Flaming Gorge for “trophy-sized” lake trout, or those over 28 inches, Keith said. The daily catch and possession limit for lake trout over 28 inches is one fish.
Flaming Gorge has been known to produce some real whopper lake trout, up to 50 pounds, he added.
The meat from smaller lake trout that have primarily eaten zooplankton is also quite tasty, Keith said.
“It can be smoked, or some people grill it with a teriyaki marinade,” Keith said. “It can be oven cooked, wrapped in foil with mayonnaise and lemon. I like to barbeque mine.”
Glowing Lures Do The Trick
For both burbot and lake trout, Keith recommends glowing lures, baited with some type of fish meat, such as sucker.
Burbot are mostly nocturnal – the best time to ice angle for them is at sunset until a couple of hours afterward, or from a couple of hours before dawn until an hour or two after, he said.
Lake trout ice fishing is usually best right at dawn and for a couple of hours afterward, he said. Lake trout generally hang out at depths of about 40-80 feet, and burbot at about 20 feet, he said.
Fishing Derbies Planned
Large ice fishing derbies are popular at many locations in Wyoming. At Flaming Gorge, they have drawn contestants from as far away as Alaska, Keith said.
The ‘Mack Attack’ ice fishing derby is set for Jan. 14-15, 2023 at the Buckboard Marina, he said. It will focus primarily on smaller lake trout.
The Burbot Bash is set for Jan. 27-29, 2023, with the goal of hauling out as many burbot as possible, he said.
Another burbot ice fishing derby is set for Feb. 10-12 at Fontenelle reservoir, which is roughly 45 miles upstream from Flaming Gorge.