Fish Description

Lota lota
Burbot, Ling, Lingcod

Family: Cods, Codfishes (Lotidae)

Order: Cods and Hakes (Gadiformes)

General Description: Burbot look somewhat eel-like, but presence of a single fleshy appendage attached to the chin called a barbel makes these fish easy to identify. Burbot also have a long second dorsal fin and long anal fin. Burbot live in large, cold rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

Abundance: patchy

Origin: native

  • Average: in
  • Largest: 39in

Distribution: Burbot are native to most of the northern United States and Canada. In Montana, burbot are native to the Kootenai River, the Yellowstone River, and the Missouri River. Burbot have also been introduced to the Clark Fork River.

Habitat: Burbot live in large, cold rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

Life History: Burbot spawn in lakes and streams in winter when the water is very cold (close to freezing) and often covered with ice. They are broadcast spawners and eggs drift until they settle into cracks and holes in the substrate. When spawining, many burbot males gather around one or two females and form a spawining ball. This ball writhes around with males and females releasing sperm and eggs. Adult burbot spawn multiple times, but usually not every year. Eggs incubate 30-128 days before they hatch, depending on water temperatures. Burbot reach sexual maturity at 4-7 years. In Montana, burbot would not be expected to live beyond 7 or 8 years.

Similar: Burbot are the only freshwater cod in Montana. They are distinctive and difficult to confuse with other fishes.

Enemies: Burbot are susceptible to Enteric Redmouth Disease, a bacterial infection. Subadults and juveniles are susceptible to larger piscivorous fishes.

Did You Know: Burbot are the only member of the codfish family that is native to Montana. Burbot are the only freshwater fish that spawn in Winter. Burbot are found world-wide in what is called a circumpolar distribution (above 40 degrees latitude). Burbot taste excellent and are considered a prize catch by fishermen. How fast burbot grow, how long they live, and how soon they mature all depends on how warm the water is in their habitats. Juvenile and larval burbot have the highest survival rates at when water temperatures are very close to 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit). Burbot like cold water that is not warmer than 12 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit).

Contributors: Matthew Corsi

  • Benthic Invertebrates
    aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans and larval insects that inhabit the bottom of a stream or lake.
  • Broadcast Spawining
    spawning where fish release eggs and sperm into currents to drift and settle wherever they fall.
  • Circumpolar Distribution
    distributed world-wide near one of the poles. In this case, the north pole.
  • Piscivorous fish
    a fish that eats other fish.
  • Hybridize
    the interbreeding of two different species.
  • Substrate
    rocks, sand, woody debris, leaves, silt, or any other material that makes up the bottom of a stream.
  • Spawn
    to deposit eggs.
  • Burbot.
  • McPhail, Donald J. and Vaughn L. Paragamian. Burbot Biology and Life History. Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2006. FishBase. Version 10/2006
  • Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Animal Field Guide. Burbot.