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slender, smooth skinned; single large barbel on chin; divided dorsal fin; anal fin nearly as long as second dorsal fin section


Burbot Distribution

Great Border Rivers


fish, crayfish

State Record

Expert Tip


The burbot is an umcommon but widespread inhabitant of the Great Border rivers. It is also an occassional visitor in other large rivers and sometimes enters the small coldwater tributaries. It prefers to inhabit areas with aquatic vegetation, rock piles, submerged logs, and various other underwater structures.

The burbot is a slender-shaped, smooth-skinned fish with a single, large barbel in the middle of its chin. Dorsal fin is divided, with the first dorsal lobe short containing 8 to 16 soft rays. The second lobe is low, long, and has 61 to 81 rays. The anal fin is nearly as long as the second dorsal and has 52 to 76 fin rays. The pelvic fins with 5 to 8 rays are inserted slightly ahead of the pectoral fins. Scales are present, but are so small that they are nearly invisible--except on large adults. The back and sides of the fish are dark olive or brown with dark mottlings, and the belly is white or pale yellow. Fins are similar in color to adjacent body parts. Although it can attain lengths of over 30 inches and weigh over 12 pounds, most of the specimens in Iowa are considerably smaller.

The burbot spawns in mid-winter or in very early spring before the ice melts. Spawning usually takes place at night with the eggs scattered over a sand or gravel bottom. Incubation lasts 4 to 8 weeks, dependent on water temperature. No care is given to the fry young. The burbot is a rather reclusive fish, hiding about underwater structure during the daytime and foraging actively at night over the stream bottom. Burbots consume mainly mayfly nymphs and other insects while young. The adults shift to a diet of fish and crayfish.

Burbot caught by anglers are such a rare occurance that they usually generate curiosity by observers and fishermen alike, mostly because of their unusual physical appearance. There seems to be a wide variance of opinion concerning their edibility. Some northern states have attempted to encourage commercial use of burbot but have met with little success. In one location the burbot is the focus of a mid-winter festival and fishing derby.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Sny Magill Creek Clayton Located in the Sny Magill Wildlife Management Area, 3 miles southwest of McGregor along Keystone Road. 5.00
Buck Creek Clayton Located 3 miles northeast of Garnavillo. 1.70