At the risk of making celebrants pout, organizers of the 40th annual International Eelpout Festival have put limits on vehicles driving onto part of Leech Lake starting Friday.
Vehicle traffic on part of the Cass County lake will be restricted to snowmobiles and smaller all-terrain vehicles classified as Class 1 or 2, festival officials announced this week. The restrictions are due to concerns over ice safety at the event, which attracts thousands of attendees.
The limits on Minnesota’s third-largest lake begin at 3 p.m. Friday and will be enforced until 8 a.m. Sunday, said Sheriff Tom Burch. Last year, ice conditions were more receptive and no vehicle restrictions were imposed.
Violators will be ticketed and towed, the sheriff warned.
“There is heavy snow and flooding, including slush and water on the ice, and a large volume of vehicle and icehouse traffic is expected,” Burch said in a statement. “Event and participant safety are our number one priority.”
Burch said the restricted area on the lake will be marked, and there is a map showing this area on the festival’s website.
Ice conditions have been monitored all week leading up to Friday’s festival kickoff, and “if conditions require,” Burch’s statement continued, “further restrictions or closures will be implemented and enforced.”
The tongue-in-cheek festival was started in 1979 as a way to boost tourism. The eelpout is a bottom-dwelling fish considered so disgusting that anglers often cut their lines rather than handle the slimy, snakelike creature.
Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday. Along with ice fishing, attendees enjoy live music, a fish fry, various games with eelpout, chain-saw carving and other entertainment.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482