Will Burbot Destroy Flaming Gorge?

Burbot were introduced whether naturally or by design into Flaming Gorge Reservoir more than a decade ago.  The results have been interesting to say the least.

Burbot and crawdads eaten by huge rainbows in Flaming Gorge

When I first started sampling the burbot population with the DWR in Utah and Wyoming, we found concentrations near drop offs very near gravel points in the two river arms of the north end of the lake.  Last year, I caught  50+ butbot with line and reel from the lake trout beds in Lucerne Bay, 60 miles south of the uppermost areas we first threw our nets.

It is safe to say that burbot are in Flaming Gorge to stay, but are they going to destroy the smallmouth population and perhaps disrupt the lake trout, kokanee, and rainbow spawns?

I don’t think so.

Utah and Wyoming are not the only states that have burbot in their waters.  They are well distributed in several other states that still support a robust bass population.  It seems that burbot find their place in the water in which they live and become simply one other fish in the lake.  This fact is important because of what I have personally experienced on Flaming Gorge in recent years.

Starting about five years ago, I won a three-day tournament on Flaming gorge with 15 very large smallmouth bass.  They were all caught in the two river arms in the far north part of the reservoir.  After the weigh-in each day, I noticed a live well full of 3 to 5 inch burbot that had been caughed up by the smallmouth bass.  Those bass were gorging themselves on burbot and after the first day, I tried to match their color which I’m sure led me to victory.

A couple of years later, while at the annual Burbot Bash, a tournament with the purpose to put a dent in the burbot population in the reservoir, I talked at length with a member of the Utah DWR.  He lamented to me that the burbot had no enemies or predators: that they were the top of the food chain.

I told him about my experience with the tournament and his mouth hit the floor of the tent.  “That is the first report of any species eating burbot.”  It has always been my belief that eventually all species in the lake would eat burbot at some stage in their lives.  Since that time, DWR officials have found burbot in the stomachs of lake trout which is great news for the longevity of the fishery.

But … hold on to your hats.  Last Saturday a friend of mine and I caught some huge rainbow trout that each had burbot in their stomachs.  In fact, one trout had a 5-inch burbot in its throat, yet to make it to the stomach.

Monday of this week, I called my friend in the Utah DWR and sent him the photos showing rainbows eating burbot and once again, he told me that was the first report of rainbows eating burbot.

Burbot are affecting the populations or behaviors of the species in Flaming Gorge, but I don’t believe they are destroying species. However, they do seem to be changing some of the other species’ habits.  Smallmouth bass are no longer hanging around the rocky bluffs like they once did.  They are too easy to be eaten there.  Now, I am finding more and more smallmouth of all sizes from 8 to 18 inches in deeper water, in schools of like sized fish.  I believe that instinct is changing where the fish reside but all species in the lake are eating burbot which means that they are quickly becoming just another species in the reservoir.

Burbot will not destroy Flaming Gorge Reservoir but we angler must make the adjustment to this new species and fight to stock more smallmouth bass and rainbows in the reservoir to feast on the small burbot and make the fishery that much better in the process.

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