One of the most famous and well-attended winter ice fishing events in Minnesota has been the Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake in Walker around the third week of February every year.
Last year was the 40th anniversary of the ice festival. This year, organizers have already announced the cancelation of this event after 40 consecutive years! It is not for the reason most of us would think -- poor ice conditions -- but due to financial and other restrictions, and apparent conflicts with Cass County.
Last year’s event was held, even though there was significant flooding and slushing on the lake at the time of the event. This year’s festival was scheduled for February 20-23.
Take it off your calendar -- it will not be happening.
Anglers (and party-goers) from all over the state have attended this multiple-day winter event, with as many as 12,000 people there on some years.
Several other ice events have been re-tooled, and more will probably need to be, due to the poor conditions on the ice in several areas of the state (including the Becker County area).
Mille Lacs Lake has been added to the lakes with improving ice conditions over the last week to 10 days. Resorts will be plowing roads as ice thicknesses now range from 15 to 20 inches.
That area also had snow knocked down by the same rain that helped Gull Lake. They do not have the snow cover we do now, so the below-zero weather helped to significantly build ice thicknesses.
Red Lake and Lake of the Woods are also in great shape and truck and wheelhouses travel are allowed on all these lakes now. Check with resorts and updated conditions before heading out. Stay on plowed roads and plowed-out areas for setup.
The DNR has announced that both Lake of the Woods and Red Lake have zebra mussels larva (veligers) present in the system, and the lakes have been added to the infested waters list. Adult zebra mussels have not been discovered at this time on either lake, but it may only be a matter of time.
This news is disappointing to me, but not surprising, given the number of visitors to both of these massive bodies of water that are both well-known as destination walleye waters.
Even in the winter, do not transport water in bait buckets from one lake to another. Keep minnows in the bait shop water or well water. If you freshen minnows with lake water when fishing this winter, transfer the minnows into well water when you come off the lake. We need to do our part to reduce risk not just during the open water months, but during the hard water season as well.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)