Angling: Burbot – little devils may be lurking in East Anglia

NOW, in the depths of winter, it is opportune for me to draw readers' attention to 'Lota lota'. A burbot, my friends.

It is a species that was thought to be extinct in this country. All dead. End of the line. Before readers lose interest and nod off, I will add that there are those who suspect strongly that there may well be some of the little devils lurking about somewhere within these shores.

Interest may be renewed when I reveal that East Anglia is the favoured area for their survival. Fame and fortune awaits the (next) captor of a burbot; the last recorded one was way back in the 60s.

So what would you look for? A gudgeon-like fish with one barbel. The dorsal (in two sections) and anal fins are very long and run over half the length of the body which has a characteristic pale marbling pattern and blotches. It is the freshwater cousin of the cod.

Where do you look? A clean East Anglian river is your best bet. The Little Ouse, as good a place as any, was the scene of an intensive trapping operation, mounted by 'they city folk from Lunnon' not long after the last burbot was caught there by rod and line.

That was back in 1960 and the angler was Peter Davis, of Bury St Edmunds. The fish weighed 15oz and it caused quite a stir, believe me.

It was Frank Curtis of Feltwell, who caught the last one in this country though. He was fishing for eels in the same area of the river.

If there are still burbot in our waters, a quick look at their life styles would indicate why they are not caught. Peculiarly, warm summer waters makes them go all numb and they almost hibernate. Come winter and they start to leap about and they become most active (and therefore hungry) when there is ice on the water.

Add to this the fact that they are night-feeding predators who rarely hunt for food in the day and eat nothing but fish and it will be seen why you are unlikely to catch enough to win a match!

So, all you have to do is go to the River Little Ouse at Lakenheath in the middle of the night during a really cold spell in January, break the ice and leger a sprat. If you do, you will be dafter than me.

No doubt I will be accused of playing April Fools but I assure you it is all true. Burbot can live up to 20 years, reaching a weight (on the continent) of 50lb with a length of up to 3 feet. And, they spawn at 0 degrees centigrade. And, they lay up to three million eggs. Honest!

It must be admitted that it does take a considerable amount of will power to prise yourself out of a warm bed at six o’clock on a Sunday morning.

You know that out there in the dark is your frost-encrusted car and a drive of 25 miles on roads thick with black ice. The prospect is daunting, the temptation to stay put almost overwhelming.

Sometimes when you arrive at the waterside to be confronted by a bright dawn, hoar frost on the grass and drifting mist rising from a flat calm surface, you scoff at the poor feeble souls still wrapped up in their beds. But not often!

It was in exactly those circumstances that I found myself a few weeks ago.

After, and indeed during, the minus four degrees centigrade temperature I found fish topping happily and I could hardly believe it.

Such was the wonderful atmosphere that I just had to get out my camera and take a few shots in spite of my desire to start fishing straight away.

It was a memorable occasion.