The International Eelpout Festival, coming next Feb. 21-24 to Walker, Minn., got a boost this month from good-humored Chef Lidia Bastianich’s PBS special: “Lidia Celebrates America: A Heartland Holiday.”
Most holiday TV specials focus on New Year’s Eve in Times Square or a big-city concert.
The PBS special focused on small-town celebrations in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Bastianich explored how they celebrate culinary traditions and how food shapes and preserve the identities of people and places.
Bastianich’s stop in Walker for last year’s eelpout festival included a taste of Scandinavian-fishy culture. She and her grandson arrived at the historic Chase on the Lake resort in Walker, just as a snowstorm hit. The two hit the snowmobile trails, caught snaky eelpout, fried them outdoors and more.
Ever caught or kissed an eelpout?: http://www.pbs.org/food/features/eelpout-festival-walker-minnesota
The festival was started on Walker Bay on Leech Lake in 1979 as a way to boost tourism.
The long-reviled eelpout is a fish considered so disgusting that anglers often cut their lines rather than handle the slimy, snakelike creature. The festival includes ice fishing, an eelpout fish fry, eelpout rugby, eelpout curling and a polar plunge.
Chase on the Lake, a century-old resort in Walker that hosts the festival, was destroyed by fire in 1997.
Minnesota-based Leisure Hotels was hired for a $30 million rebuild. Leisure still manages Chase. It annually serves 10,000 guests who participate in fishing and year-round sports, including the Eelpout Festival that attracts 10,000 participants and spectators, 10 times the size of Walker.
The festival generates $1 million-plus for the local economy.