Eelpout Festival leaving Leech Lake for Lake Bemidji?
Even with the dramatic comeback of walleyes on Leech Lake in the last decade, a decades-long homage to another species that is a far cry from the state fish has had a lot to do with putting the lake on the national/international map.
Since its start in 1979, the International Eelpout Festival has called Leech home. But according to reports, after nearly four decades, festival organizers are considering about a 40-mile move to the northwest to Bemidji and have pitched it to officials there, who are discussing the possibility.
According to the festival website, the event draws more than 10,000 people to Walker each February in pursuit of “one of the ugliest bottom-dwelling fish.” Fishing is only part of the draw, though – the event is regarded as one of the state’s biggest outdoor winter parties.
In recent years, post-Pout Fest cleanup and parking have caused concerns, and last year, because of safety concerns related to ice conditions, automobile traffic wasn’t allowed on Walker Bay during the event – to the dismay of festival organizers, who said that ice thickness was more than sufficient at the time of the event.
Also, according to reports, the Cass County Board last year gave organizers the option to pay a deposit to the county to cover cleanup or pay the county nothing and hire a private company to do it. Previously, the Cass County Environmental Services Department, Sheriff’s Department and Service Jail Inmates helped in what had become a massive cleanup effort, picking up an estimated 900 pounds of trash after the 2016 event, according to reports.