Eelpout, at best described as “rather unfortunate looking,” and at worst as “just plain ugly,” aren’t going to win any beauty pageants in area lakes, but they will be the most popular fish on the block this weekend—February 19-22—at the International Eelpout Festival in Walker.
Located in the southwest corner of Leech Lake in northern Minnesota, the tiny town of Walker attracts crowds more than 10 times the population of this little host city (anywhere from 10-12,000 festival-goers) during one of the chilliest weekends of the year. The appeal of the event is simple: It’s a great way to celebrate winter (even if you do have to dress in many, many layers in order to stay warm).
According to event organizers, “In a state where it is common to embrace the quirky and find great fun in the most unlikely circumstances and weather conditions, this festival is pure Minnesota fun.” The festival includes mechanical bull riding in the Big Top Tent, a kids’ perch fishing contest, a bowl rugby tournament, a fish fry (eelpout nuggets fried with Goose Antler batter!), auto ice races on the lake, the Polar Pout Plunge for charity in the frigid waters of Leech Lake, eelpout curling, a beer pong tournament, a bean bag tournament, an ice bar created from 40,000 pounds of ice, and ice fishing Olympics (among other events). Those who take part in the festival are affectionately nicknamed “pouters.” Many pouters enjoy the experience so much they make it an annual tradition.