The 37th International Eelpout Festival will be held Friday through Sunday on Leech Lake, headquartered out of City Park in Walker, Minn.
Due to the ice conditions on Walker Bay, travel on the ice has been limited to snowmobiles and ATVs this year, with no vehicles allowed on the ice during the festival.
The Eelpout Festival has become very popular over the years, with more than 10,000 visitors expected from all parts of the world.
The number of participants expected this weekend is more than 10 times the total population of Walker. Much of the overflow traffic ends up in Bemidji to find lodging, food, beverages and any other essentials they may need to pursue the elusive eelpout.
Fishing for eelpout sounds like a joke to some people, but eelpout are a really cool and unique fish once you get to know them. They also taste really good.
Eelpout have many nicknames, including aliases like lawyer fish, codfish, ling cod, burbot and Lota Lota. Eelpout are actually freshwater cod, which are very similar genetically to the dozen or more species of cod living in the coldest depths of the ocean.
Eelpout prefer cold water and are most active during the winter. They are rarely seen during the summer, when they are virtually dormant living in the deepest parts of the lakes.
Eelpout have been found in water deeper than 1,000 feet in Lake Superior, so nothing is too deep for an eelpout living in lakes in the Bemidji area.
The first fish to spawn each spring is the eelpout, which actually spawns under the ice in late February to early March. This gives anglers at the Eelpout Festival a good chance to catch prespawn eelpout during the festival, which is their most active time of the year.
The full moon is an added bonus this weekend, which should help the night bite for anyone fishing for light-sensitive species like eelpout and also for fish like walleyes and crappies.
Anglers can look at a LakeMap and find the deepest holes in the lakes and then look for any structure that touches the deep water as a good starting place to look for eelpout.
Anglers often catch eelpout by accident when fishing for walleyes, especially at night. Eelpout are like walleyes in many ways, only they like bigger lures and more aggressive presentations.
Eelpout have smooth skin, so they can hear (feel) the vibrations in the water better than fish that have scales. This means larger lures with rattles or lures that are pounded into the bottom and make noise are good for eelpout.
Eelpout have little eyes and big mouths, so larger lures that glow can help them locate the bait better in the dark.
Eelpout have barbels, so they have a good sense of smell. This means anglers can add scents like crayfish, nightcrawler or anise oil to help the eelpout find their bait. This also means live bait is essential, with some anglers putting half a minnow on each of the treble hooks on their jigging spoons.
Eelpout usually stay close to the bottom, so presentations should be placed within inches of the bottom or make frequent contact with the bottom when fishing with lures.
Dead sticks or rattle reels can be rigged with glowing ice jigs tipped with a medium to large shiner minnow set a couple of inches from the bottom, so the eelpout can easily swim over the top of the minnow and swallow.
Anglers wanting to eat eelpout should take the back strap and tail section of the fillet and cut them into bite size pieces. Some anglers deep fry the nuggets. Other anglers like to dunk the fish pieces for about 20-30 seconds in boiling water with a bay leaf or two.
Put the boiled fish pieces in a glass pan and bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees, remove the excess liquid from the pan, then brush the fish pieces with butter and seasonings, put back in the oven for 5 more minutes and then dip in butter and eat like lobster.