Better not pout: Thin ice won't sink Eelpout Festival


When a Minnesota town sees its population grow exponentially for one weekend out of the year – because people come from far and wide to celebrate a fish famous for its ugliness – you know it's a big deal.

Which is why organizers of the Eelpout Festival in Walker didn't want their event to join the list of others that have been canceled this winter by poor ice conditions (Maple Lake's Ice Fishing Derby being the most recent example).

When Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch declared Tuesday the ice on Leech Lake could not safely support the large number of vehicles associated with a typical Eelpout Festival, organizers were ready with a Plan B.

Anglers will be welcome on Walker Bay when the festival begins late next week – but their trucks will not be.

Under the revised policy, snowmobiles and ATVs are OK to drive onto the lake but other motor vehicles will be towed from noon on Friday, Feb. 19 until 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 21.

What's the Eelpout Festival?

Dropping a line under the ice in hopes of landing the festival's namesake is certainly one of the main attractions at the Eelpout Festival, which has been around for 37 years.

But, as the list of events shows, the fishing contest is not the only game in town.

Why, there's the eelpout fish fry, live music, eelpout curling, a keg castle, eelpout rugby, the eelpout 500 races, and an eelpout fishing show ("talk with local fishing guides on how to catch the big pout").

Leave it to a slimy bottom-dweller to draw 10,000 people to Walker, a town of 1,000.

What's an eelpout?

The Minnesota DNR says the fish – also known as a burbot – looks like a cross between an eel and a catfish.

They also cut to the chase by saying: "With its slimy skin and tendency to wrap itself around your arm, the burbot is considered by many anglers to be the 'ish' of fish."

What better mascot for a winter weekend on a body of water called Leech Lake? Thankfully, thin ice won't suck the fun out of this year's festivities.

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