One March evening many years ago, I had a hankering for a good fish chowder, so I decided to cusk fish that night.

I headed out to a sandy spot I usually fish and set five traps using some saltwater smelt I had caught that week. By now they were getting ripe, just right for cusk. Using a lead-depth sounder, I found bottom and dropped in a baited hook. I peeled off several additional feet of line and watched it sink in the headlight of my idling sled. Repeating this scenario four more times, I had the legal number of traps set and I had an hour before I had to check them again.

Tom Roth is a freelance outdoor writer who lives in Raymond on the shore of Sebago Lake. He has been fishing and hunting in this region for more than 30 years and is a Registered Maine Guide.

Back at camp I lit a fire in the fireplace and settled into Dad’s old recliner. With a cup of coffee and a book, I relaxed until my watch indicated an hour was up, then headed back out.

It’s amazing how direction at night changes. I always look for the radio tower on Brown Hill in Raymond when I need a point of reference for the camp. It’s lit with a flashing red light to warn low-flying aircraft, and it serves to direct me no matter where I am on the lake. It was erected in 1959 and at the time, it was the tallest structure in the world at 1,619 feet.

I headed toward the blinking tower and then made a hard right, finally picking up my first trap in the headlight of the old Safari 503. Nothing. Four more traps checked and no action at those, either. I motored back to the camp and settled into the warmth by the fireplace. I made five or six more trips, all with no luck.

Finally, close to 1 a.m. I had a flag on my second trap! I whizzed the sled over as soon as I saw the red felt flag in my light and shut the machine down and saw that the trap reel was motionless. However, the line was off to the side of the hole. Normally I would wait for the fish to swim, but I know cusk will swallow their prey and sit while digesting it, so I pulled lightly but firmly on the line. I could feel the fish writhe and knew instantly I had my intended quarry. This one came up easily, and I was pleased to see a 2-pound fish curling up on the ice. I had my chowder fish.

Related to the cod, the cusk, or Lota lota, is also referred to as a burbot, which draws its Latin meaning from “barba” or beard, likely due to the single whisker under the fish’s chin. Like its saltwater cousin, the cod, cusk are high in vitamin D-rich oil from their liver, and that organ makes up 10% of its body weight. That’s more than six times the size of livers in other freshwater fish, in case you were curious.

Cusk move into shallow water in the winter and prefer a sandy or mucky bottom. The shallows just off the Route 302 beach in Raymond are perfect habitat for these bottom-dwellers. My saltwater smelt work wonders, as do fillets from a large sucker or common shiner. I think cusk prefer dead bait over live, but that debate could go on for days. Now’s the time to get out and target cusk. It will be open-water season soon enough.

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