Northern MN eelpout festival seeks new home

An eelpout catch. (PHOTO: Eric Hanson, Flickr CC)

Eelpout aren’t pretty. These bottom-feeding freshwater fish fail to win any beauty contests, often surviving solely on the fact that anglers refuse to touch them. And that’s fine by the eelpout.

But for 38 years, the annual Eelpout Festival in Walker brought revelers and outdoor enthusiasts to the frozen surface of Leech Lake at Walker, Minnesota. The event billed itself on the premise that eelpout taste good, if you try them.

Of course, the eelpout festival also demonstrates the truth that enough beer makes anything taste good. Eelpout. Napkins. Boots. You name it.

Even though the Eelpout Festival draws more than 10,000 people, the festival finds itself looking for a new home, one that better fits its needs. And organizers have fixed their gaze northwest to Bemidji.

But the reception in Bemidji has closely resembled that of a fisherman staring down the face of an eelpout when he wanted a walleye. Bemidji isn’t so sure it wants the Eelpout Festival.

People often sleep in the ice houses, meaning fewer people renting hotel rooms. Prison inmates pulled more than 900 pounds of trash off Leech Lake last year. And just like an eelpout in the pan, folks can get a little wild.

The Beltrami County Board reviewed the Eelpout Festival application earlier this week. Events of more than 5,000 people require six months notice, too little time for the ‘Pouters. So organizers are focused on putting on an event of less than 5,000 people.

Commissioners raised concerns about trash and crime, given the party atmosphere of the Eelpout Festival. Event organizers say they have a plan to address these matters.

You can’t keep a good eelpout down. Actually, they like it down at the bottom of a lake. It looks like this winter might bring eelpout to Bemidji.

No matter what they look like, eelpout must be reckoned with.

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