The 33rd Annual International Eelpout Festival got underway on Thursday, February 16, 2012, and continues through the weekend in Walker, Minnesota. Featured on “The Tonight Show” in 2011, the festival bills itself as an ice fishing contest “unlike other uppity winter fishing events.” Here’s what makes the Eelpout special:
The Eelpout Festival is named after an ugly bottom-dwelling fish, and it’s primarily about ice fishing, with simple rules focused on the sport itself. Contestants need a hook and line, can expect to drill their own holes, and are free to warm themselves in ice houses, because the object is fishing, not freezing. Anglers would also do well to bring a sense of humor to this event. Rule No. 5, for example, advises that to ensure fish come from the Leech Lake Watershed, DNA and lie detector tests will be administered. If the caught eelpout fish fails the lie detector, the rules say, the angler will have to take one.
Bikinis and Pout Relays
Eelpout entertainment is designed around something lake country residents can count on at this time of year: ice. There’s an icy “polar pout plunge,” ice racing, and bikini ice fishing.
In 2010, inspired by the Vancouver Olympics, a local resort introduced Chase the Pout games, and they’ve become an annual feature of Eelpout. One such event is the pout relay, in which participants pass a pout baton as they race. There’s also a curling contest. Despite its name, pout curling, the competitors follow the tradition of hurling stones, not eelpout.
A special luge track was built to accommodate the pout luge competition.
“Who caught the biggest fish?” is the question that dominates fishing competitions. In the 31-year history of the Eelpout, that honor goes to Jerry Wizner. He hooked a 15.05 pounder in 1996.
When it comes to the quantity fished in any year, 1987 saw the highest iced tonnage, 6,223 pounds, while in 1980, the combined efforts of the anglers produced only a paltry 214 pounds. In their defense, there were a lot less anglers at the Eelpout back in 1980.
Eelpout is upfront about its history and purpose. A Walker resident dreamed it up in 1979 to lure people to the lake area in the frigid winter months. Ken Bresley’s concept for a festival featuring a decidedly ugly fish didn’t garner the enthusiasm of his local Chamber of Commerce, but he took matters into his own hands. From modest beginnings – the original festival drew 700 people – the event gained popularity and established its annual presence in the north country of Minnesota, where it’s now enjoyed by crowds of 10,000. 2010 marked the launch of Chase the Eelpout Games, sponsored by a local resort.