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Potential state record burbot landed in North Dakota


by Brian Mozey

Bismarck, N.D. — Shane Johnson had just one bite during five hours of fishing from the late evening of Jan. 3 to the early morning of Jan. 4. 

But that one bite was taken by a mighty big fish – a 41 3/4-inch, 19-pound, 5-ounce burbot that could be North Dakota’s new state record.

Johnson, of Minot, N.D., was fishing at the Garrison Dam tailrace that connects Lake Sakakawea with the Missouri River. He and his friend, Brandon Gullickson, fish there a few times each year, but their target is usually walleyes. 

The two anglers were fishing in about 20 to 30 feet of water at the Garrison Dam around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Johnson said he was using a long rod and jigging for walleyes in the open water. He had a quarter-ounce jig and a 4-inch plastic bait and was popping it about 10 inches from the bottom. 

The two didn’t have any bites until around 11 p.m., when Johnson felt a hard strike. Then, he felt dead weight and knew it could be a nice fish. 

“It slowly started to swim upstream, which is pretty much what paddlefish do, and there are a lot of paddlefish in that river system,” Johnson said. “So then I started thinking more that it was a paddlefish, but then I felt some big head shakes and got really excited because I thought maybe it was a big walleye.”

The fish took off, peeling line from the reel against the drag. During the battle, Johnson’s thoughts shifted. Was it maybe a big salmon? A northern or a trout? The fish started to roll, and Johnson said that often suggests catfish. 

While he was thinking of all of the possibilities, about six to eight minutes passed, then the fish nearly surfaced.

“Soon the fish got about 8 inches below the surface of the water and (I was) looking down at it with a headlamp and in the magnification of the water, it looked like it was 6 feet long!” Johnson said. “We’re like, oh God, this thing is huge! It was really wide and we were thinking maybe catfish. We didn’t know it was a burbot until it got into my basket.”

The potential North Dakota state record burbot was caught on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 at Garrison Dam Tailrace. Shane Johnson of Minot, North Dakota, caught it with his friend Brandon Gullickson.

The net that Johnson had brought along was about 24 inches around and he was situated about 20 to 30 feet above the water. So, the process to get the fish in the net took another six to eight minutes. 

Johnson said he could’ve dragged the fish around the wing of the dam, but it would’ve increased the chances that the fish come unhooked. 

Gullickson was in charge of hoisting the net and fish up. Once it reached the top, they looked up the state record because it was such a large specimen.

Johnson had a scale in his backpack, which indicated the fish to be 20 pounds, 6 ounces. The previous state record was 18 pounds, 4 ounces. It was caught June 4, 1984 from the Knife River. That fish was 41 inches long.

“Right away, when it came over the wall, we looked at each other and thought, this thing is huge,” Johnson said. “We had to look up the record because we knew this was a really big burbot.”

But it was 11:30 p.m. and there was nowhere to officially weigh the fish. So they put it in a garbage bag and placed it in their vehicle to make sure it wouldn’t freeze. Then they continued fishing until 3 a.m. 

In the morning, Johnson traveled around the Minot area to receive two Whopper Club weights. One of them was 19 pounds, 13 ounces, and the other was 19 pounds, 8 ounces. Then, he went to a meat processor with a North Dakota game warden at 10 a.m. on Jan. 4 to receive a certified weight, which was 19 pounds, 5 ounces. 

(According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s Whopper Club website, only species listed and meeting minimum weight requirements will qualify for a recognition sticker and certificate. Only one application may be made for each species in a lifetime. An application card must be filled out, giving weight and length of fish, date and where caught, signature of applicant, and signature of person weighing the fish. Applications must be submitted within 90 days of when the fish was caught. The minimum for a burbot is 8 pounds.)

Scott Gangl, a fisheries management supervisor for the NDG&F, said confirmation of the fish being a state record is still in process. The new record could be officially recognized as soon as next month. 

“It’s a pretty cool experience,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of, right spot at the right time. … If there’s one record that a guy wants to break, like a cool one, it’s burbot.”

For the record, the largest burbot caught in Minnesota was 19 pounds, 10 ounces. It’s a record that’s stood since Dec. 19, 2016.

Lake Of The Woods Fishing Report

On the south end... We are in the heart of the ice fishing season up on Lake of the Woods. Resorts continue to move houses with a goal of staying on the walleyes and saugers. The most active depths for fishing this past week was 30 - 36 feet of water.

Numbers of smaller walleyes and saugers being caught and sorted through mixed with eaters (under 19.5 inches), slot fish (19.5 - 28 inches which must be released after a photo) and trophy walleyes (28 inches and over).

The limit on the MN side of LOW is a combined limit of walleyes and saugers of 6, with up to 4 being able to be walleyes.

Jigging with a small jigging spoon tipped with a piece of minnow has been effective. Wonder Bread (white with colored spots), chartreuse, glow red and gold have been good colors. Try glow colors on cloudy days and during low light. Try gold or even silver on sunny days.

On your second line, use a live minnow set anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet off of the bottom. Sometimes by having the minnow a bit higher in the water column can get fish to react better. A plain colored hook with a sinker just above the minnow has been working well.

Watching electronics will help you understand the mood of the fish, see where they are in the water column and tip you off on when they are swimming through.

In addition to the walleyes and saugers, eelpout (burbot), pike, jumbo perch, tullibees and a few crappies and sturgeon have been in the mix.

Please remember to Keep It Clean and remove all trash and waste from the ice. Have a plan.

As border waters, LOW has extended ice fishing regulations. Fish houses can be overnight through March 31st, walleye and saugers open through April 14th on the lake, pike never close.

On the Rainy River... A similar report to last week on the river with a mixed bag of walleyes and saugers with the morning and evening bite being the best. Using a jig and minnow in one hole and deadsticking with a minnow just off of the bottom on the second hole working the best.

Ice conditions vary on the river as there is current, work through a resort or outfitter for safety.

Up at the NW Angle... A great week of ice fishing. Resorts are fishing many different areas of the Angle with good results. Lots of fish in a lot of different areas which is good.

A nice mix of small fish, eaters, slots and trophies. Some big pike showing up for walleye anglers. Some anglers like this, some, not so much! They are big, put up a heck of a fight and while they are around your house, there is a good chance the walleyes and saugers are not.

Some nice crappies being caught on the Ontario side of the lake amongst the islands. Some Angle resorts can assist with that special trip.

Driving through Canada to the Angle no longer requires COVID vaccinations or the use of the ArriveCan App.

For those looking to access the Angle while avoiding customs, snowmobiling across the lake on the marked trails, utilizing the Lake of the Woods Passenger (bombardier) Service or flying up via Lake Country Air are all good options.

A complete list of lodging, fish house rentals and sleeper fish house rentals at




Red Lake



Jan 27 2023

Another week has flown by here on the shores of upper red lake. What looked like an easier week turned into another busy week with 3 trips to Bemidji 2 tracking down a radiator for the red baron.
 Jonny boy got back home to help us get ready for the weekend. We tried our best to prep for the snow and winds that rolled in last night. I would say we got at least 2 inches. Big Tony stayed out on the lake last night in old minnesota to be closer to the guest.  Just in case anything came up.  I have not heard from him over night, so I hope that's a good sign.
 We started the week with Jake and his boys rolling in monday morning. Jake was on a mission to catch some elusive yet catchable upper red lake crappies. If I remember right, they landed 17 keeping 6 to eat.
 With Darrin also coming up we were able to move california for Jared and his buddies as they had been here since saturday. That moved payed off as the mother lode swam under the house for there last night here. Even though they were not walleyes they were tickled pink to have all the action. I'm not sure how many they kept but they caught well over thirty.
 We had Jim his wife and their granddaughter Brooklyn in florida. They did all right having action both nights. With my crappy memory I cannot remember the numbers but I be leave they got a couple walleyes and a few crappies.
 With all the help we were able to move the whole fleet to new grounds before Jake and Darrin headed home.
  Wednesday, we had joe his son in montana with their neighbor Jason and his 2 boys in california. Joe said they caught 18 crappies and a few smaller walleyes.
 Jason son did get a true 14 1/2 inch crappie that he was very proud of. The action last night was much slower for them. I'm not sure if it picked up after I came off the lake.
 I did wet a line myself last night. I maybe fished for a hour landing one. Jonny boy showed up and landed 4 or 5 with a couple smaller walleyes.
 Mother nature decided it was time to show us she is in control. with the high winds out there, I expect she will be a long day. All the old roads that have been open are now more than likely gone.
. We had two groups roll in yesterday. We also plowed a few spots for wheelhouses.
  We have 2 more groups rolling in today, looks like we will baby the red baron and tackle the radiator in the next 48 hours. I have changed more than one radiator in my lifetime, but my aches and pains, age, have caught up with me so Jonny boy and big Tony will tackle it.
 Its been a year since we have had to deal with a snowstorm followed by high winds so she will be an interesting day. Not sure why they seem to fall on fridays but we know that part is out of control.
 While Jake was here, I got to watch the side imaging in action. He saw a school of crappies 50 feet away from the house. He went over augured 2 holes came back grabbed his rod with a plastic mister twister. he proceeded to land 3 fish in less than 5 minutes during the middle of the day. I think it's almost cheating.

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