Few Minnesotans respect the burbot, that snaky, slimy, eel-like codfish that lurks in the depths of the state's big lakes.
Most say it's downright ugly. Some say it's the "ish" of fish. Many won't touch one because of their tendency to wrap snake-like around an arm.
But not Aaron Guthrie.
The 35-year-old angler from Bemidji loves catching and eating burbot, also called eelpout. So he was all smiles Friday after hooking a 19.5-pound burbot while fishing in his ice house on Lake of the Woods. If certified by the Department of Natural Resources, it will be a state record, edging out a 19.3-pounder caught in Lake of the Woods in 2001.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime 'pout,'' Guthrie said. "It's going on the wall. It's a state record. I'm not going to eat it.''
"It's a gorgeous fish,'' said Dennis Topp, a DNR assistant area fisheries supervisor in Baudette who watched Guthrie put the big fish on a supermarket scale and helped him with the record-certification process.
Guthrie was fishing with his uncle for walleyes and sauger during the day, but when evening fell they added minnows to their lures and targeted 'pout. Burbot tend to more actively feed at night.
"They are great to eat,'' Guthrie said.
The big fish hit in 34 feet of water. "I knew it was a 'pout right away, but I didn't realize how big it was,'' he said.
After a five-minute fight, his uncle, Rollie Jones of Osseo, finally grabbed it.
Phil Talmage, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Baudette, is a burbot fan, too. "It's a monster of an eelpout,'' he said.
A typical burbot from Lake of the Woods weighs about 5 pounds, he said. The DNR doesn't track their populations, but Talmage believes it has fallen in recent years, for reasons unknown.
Its reputation remains on the rocks, too.
"Even though it's illegal, lots of anglers throw them on the ice instead of eating them or putting them back down the hole,'' he said. Those anglers are making a mistake, he said. "It's freshwater cod, with good white, flaky meat.''
And, he added: "I personally don't think they're slimier than a northern. But people get nervous when they wrap around their arms.''