The Eelpout Festival could be moving lakes

The event has been held on Leech Lake for 38 years, but that may be ending.
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Every winter for the past four decades, thousands of outdoor aficionados descend on Walker, Minnesota to celebrate the International Eelpout Festival.

But that tradition could be coming to an end, with the organizers considering a new location.

The three-day ice fishing and winter games festival attracts as many as 10,000 people to Leech Lake in the north-central Minnesota community, but last year warmer weather led to local sheriffs implementing vehicle restrictions on the lake ice.

This week it's been revealed that festival organizers have applied for a permit to hold the event on the smaller Lake Bemidji, about 40 miles northwest of Leech Lake, according to a Beltrami County Commissioners agenda.

In a statement on the official Facebook page, festival organizers said that no final decision has been made on a move for the event, which usually takes place in February, but that they will "continue to explore any and all options to ensure a feasible future for the festival."

"We are committed to providing a top-notch experience for our host community, patrons and event sponsors and partners," it said.

"We have been in discussions with Walker officials, as well as community leaders in other potential locations, to identify the best course of action for the long-term growth, community support and sustainability of this unique event."

It continues to say "no final decisions have been made at this juncture," but it's still proceeding with holding the 2018 festival this February, with dates to be confirmed.

As well as the vehicle restrictions, the Bemidji Pioneer notes that last year also saw organizers being held financially responsible for the post-festival clean-up on the lake. Previously it had been done by the Cass County environmental services department, sheriff's office and local jail inmates.

Local lore has it that the festival started out as a group of friends gathering together on the lake for some ice fishing, with one of them getting the idea for an annual event when they reeled in an eelpout.

And if you don't know, an eelpout is an eel-like bottom-feeding fish, which the Minnesota DNR says looks like a "cross between an eel and a catfish."

It's also known as a burbot.

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