Feb 26, 2019 | By: Anthony Scott

Northwoods Adventure: Walker Celebrates 40th Annual Eelpout Festival

One of the most unique festivals you will ever see was celebrating its 40th anniversary over the weekend, as thousands gathered on Leech Lake for the Eelpout Festival.

“It’s a one of a kind event,” Jason Freed, Leisure Outdoor Adventures Manager, said. “You’re not going to find another event like this in the rest of the world.”

Known for its ugliness, the eelpout reels in thousands of people to Leech Lake every year for a very unique celebration.

“It’s about eelpout in terms of the name and everything, but it’s also about the town of Walker and everybody coming together one time a year for a great festival,” Freed said.

So, what exactly is an eelpout?

“Another name for it is called a poor man’s lobster,” Darin Reinke, Great Lakes Aquarium Director of Husbandry, said. “It actually has the texture of lobster and it tastes really well. Some people really love to eat them, others don’t even like to catch them because they are real slimy and hard to get off the hook.”

However, it’s sliminess and ugly appearance didn’t stop me from taking part in an Eelpout Festival tradition. Legend at the Eelpout Festival is that it is good luck to give the fish a smooch, and I needed some good luck.

Many anglers could have used good luck as they competed in the eelpout fishing derby, but not everyone comes to Walker to fish.

“This is my sixth Eelpout and I come here to party,” Phil Emmons, an Eelpout Festival Attendee, said. “It’s all about the good time; I’ve never even brought an auger.”

“All you need to know is that’s the only Eelpout that needs to be here,” Rich Wilson, an Eelpout Festival Attendee, said. “We tried fishing our first year, and we flooded our area.”

Whether it’s to fish or to just have a good time, there is something for everyone at Eelpout. However, Cass County did not allow vehicles on the ice this year for safety reasons, and attendance was lower than normal.

“This year with the conditions being a little bit tougher, numbers are down a little bit,” Freed said. “But we will see – we still have the rest of today, and part of tomorrow.”

But if you’re going to make the trek to Walker for next year’s festival, there are a couple things you want to remember.

“If you ever want to come to Eelpout, bring good boots and a smile because we don’t want anyone to be angry here,” Wilson said.

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