Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Walker's Eelpout festival: Spring break on ice

Let's see...We have the fake-baked Coors girls looking like Barbie in Siberia, a bikini contest, and a whole lot of people donning swim trunks to jump into Leech Lake where 4-foot chunks of ice have been removed. This is Walker, Minn., during one of the town's biggest events of the year. The annual Eelpout Festival runs Feb. 19-21 this year. Technically, it's an ice-fishing competition, but it's really just an excuse. This is Minnesota's version of spring break on ice, WE Fest in winter. The goal is fun--and the chance to laugh in Mother Nature's frigid face.

Bawdy and a bit naughty     
A few things to know about the festival. It can be bawdy--even in the daylight. It's pretty hilarious, though, to drive through the mass city of ice houses and watch ATVs pulling couches loaded up with people (jokingly called "red-neck ski couches"). Our kids were even invited to shoot arrows at the giant inflated gorilla. Just be sharp enough to drive around the R-rated encampments. There are places named "The No-Tel Ho-Tel" and signs suggesting visitors do things that would earn you beads at Mardi Gras.
Go jump in the lake. Really.
There are kids games in the City Park, but mine, especially our 9-year-old son, were most fascinated by watching just-this-side-of-crazy folks who raise money to jump in the lake. The plunge is set up just below the gorgeously renovated Chase on the Lake Hotel. One participant (I think he was the European) managed a graceful swan dive before getting chastised. You have to jump feet first. Either way, you risk screaming like a girl. Of course, the shock might muffle it. Hats off to the Hackensack group who dressed like the cast of "Paul Bunyan: The Musical" and made the most colorful, flannel-themed splash. You were our favorite.
Read more about the Walker, Minn., festival at www.startribune.com/travel.