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Eelpout festivities in high gear on Leech Lake

The Chase Hotel ice bar served animals, vegetables and minerals. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 4
Festive respites dotted the ice of Walker Bay on Leech Lake. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 4
A group from Sioux Falls tried their hand at curling. Note the eelpout handle for the stone. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)3 / 4
A group dressed up as beer bottles took the Pout Polar Plunge. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)4 / 4

Walker's version of "a festivus for the rest of us" is underway this weekend as the 33rd annual International Eelpout Festival got off to its raucous start.

Think of the wacky holiday made famous in the Seinfeld TV series. Then multiply it by 10,000 characters. Eelpout appeals to those with a terminal case of arrested development.

On a beautiful weekend, the rowdy festival attracted the young, old, even some actually fishing for the state's ugliest fish - the eelpout.

"I've been coming since 1989 and this is the most perfect weekend I can remember," said Tim Swanson of Clear Lake. "I've only missed two, one for the birth of my son and one for a broken back."

But Swanson was stepping gingerly with a cane to get around.

The annual Pout Polar Plunge raised in excess of $30,000 for the Walker Area Community Center.

Around 2 p.m. Saturday a DJ announced a flight of GOP "bigwigs" had just landed at the airport.

No one reported seeing any politicians throughout the afternoon.

This wasn't their kind of constituents. But the air space above Walker Bay could have used some traffic control as small planes and helicopters steered clear of each other, there was so much aerial sightseeing.

Pouters walked about in shorts, T-shorts and there was a notable group of men in kilts. One, who only identified himself as "Lucky" was posing for photos with visitors.

The Chase Hotel's ice bar glittered under a huge tent, but the dance floor was treacherous.

Jeff Teeple of St. Paul, was welcoming guest Pouters to his Igloo Bar. "We've been doing this three or four years," he said.

A dude named Rob Perpich was munching on a "Flaming Hot Cheetos sandwich" - chips stuffed between two pieces of bread.

The Maple Grove man and his buddies were playing "hammerschlagen," a beer drinking game of inebriated "skilled carpentry" in which contestants pound large nails into a stump. Extra points are given for hammer handling tricks. The losers had to eat bait.

"Well, okay, it's drunken pounding if you want to get down to the basics," Perpich said.

Then turning introspective, he says, "Would you vote for me if I ran for office?"

A brave Girl Scout set up a table to sell cookies but was dwarfed by beer signs. But as the beer flowed, so did cookie sales.

Bar stool races careened up and down the street, games of football broke out on the sunny ice and eelpout curling was a new sport.

The festival winds up Sunday and most of the participants may need Presidents Day to recover.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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