What is usually a great empty expanse of white, frozen lake just off the shores from Walker on Leech Lake, turns into Mardi Gras on ice for one weekend in February, with thousands of cars, trailers and fishhouses parked next to one another as a defacto city on the ice takes shape for Eelpout Festival.
Minnesota's Midwinter Mardi Gras
Although the summer is generally thought of as the time when the population of the Leech Lake area is the most tourist -filled, Eelpout Festival is one of the biggest tourist events in the area, usually drawing in about 15,000 fishers and revelers for the weekend. The official purpose of this event is to see who can catch the biggest eelpout.
What's an Eelpout?
An eelpout is a fish from the family of perciform ray-finned fish which, in comparison to the other famous inhabitant of Leech Lake, the sleek and tasty walleye, has been judged as a lesser-than in the fish world. As the name suggests, eelpout are somewhat eel-like in appearance, with elongated bodies and the dorsal and anal fins continuous with the caudal fin. They are also notorious for doing the eel-like thing of wrapping themselves around your arm when you're trying to pull one off your line.
Festival Fun and much more...
Trappers Landing Lodge was the sponsor of the big top tent located in Walker City Park (on solid ground), where bands played and a varied of events were held over the weekend: such as, the Bikini Contest, the Fashion Show, and the Karaoke Contest. Other events taking place at the festival were: Best Encampment contest; the Eelpout Peelout 5 mile run; a Polar Plunge; Rugby Tournament; 'On-Ice" Auto Race (taking place at Garfield Lake); Eelpout Derby Pout Races; Ice Fishing Olympics; and the International Ice-Drilling Championships with hand auger divisions for men, women and youth.
Official Eelpout Festival rules state that all fish entered into the contest must come from Leech Lake, and all anglers must be prepared to submit fish samples for DNA testing; a lie-detector test will be performed on the eelpout; and if the eelpout fails the test, one will be administered to the angler. Eelpout officials apparently have a sense of humor about the whole thing. And that is the point. Eelpout Festival manages to provide serious fun and fishing events for the whole family, all while not taking itself too seriously.
Serious fishing served up fried!
Eelpout, kabobs and fries were served at the Trappers Landing Lodge tent. Everyone knows that Leech Lake walleye are good eatin'. However, locals and eelpout insiders know that when an eelpout is breaded, fried and served with a side of tartar sauce, most folks can't tell the difference. Especially if they're the typical Eelpouter, and already had a few drinks.
You'll also find families and packs of cavorting adults and fishermen wandered about eating cheese curds and brats, drinking a variety of libations, trying on enormous fur hats, and touring the fishhouses on display.
The Eelpout festival takes place every February and Trapper's Landing Lodge has a front row seat to all the action!