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Finding Minnesota: Eelpout Festival In Walker

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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WALKER, Minn. (WCCO) — New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Munich has Oktoberfest and northern Minnesota has The Eelpout Festival.

It’s an all-out party on ice, Feb. 16-19, featuring games, booze and fish on Minnesota’s third largest lake.

Thousands head out to the ice, hoping to catch a prehistoric looking creature.

“The eelpout is a really unique fish,” said Jeff Andersen, a local fishing guide.

“They’re like an eel,” said Jamie Tatge of Chase on the Lake resort, “and they’ll spin around your arm.”

“And then they got beady little eyes that are spread across the head,” added Ken Bresley. “The point is, they’re a mess.”

Bresley founded the Eeelpout Festival 33 years ago, while trying to think of ways to attract winter tourists to Walker. At the time, no one wanted to find an eelpout at the end of their fishing line.

“It had so many negatives,” he said, “we knew that was the answer. We could turn all these negatives into a positive.”

Eelpout usually swim toward the bottom of deep, cold lakes.

But this time of year, they come up to spawn.

“Like a snake, they slither around. It’s kind of a goofy looking thing when they come out,” said Andersen.

Most of the games – like the Polar Pout Plunge and Pout Luge – take place behind Chase on the Lake resort.

There’s even a Bikini Ice Fishing team.

“You don’t usually see people out in bikinis like having fun going fishing,” said Dijon Bouchard, one of the team members.

People do eat the eelpout. It’s known as the poor man’s lobster.

And when you pull one up, you dance.

“When you catch an eelpout, we call it the Eelpout Shuffle.”

They expect as many 15,000 people on Leech Lake next weekend to fish, drink and dance.

“It is something that until you’ve actually experienced it you’ll never understand it,” said Tatge.

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