At the International Eelpout Festival, each happening, it seems, is a story in the making.
In the Best Eelpout Encampment contest judging, scheduled at 3 p.m. Saturday, "Bribes are accepted at the registration tent until 2:59 p.m.," according to the festival Web site.
And in the Eelpout Derby/Pout Races on Saturday at 11 a.m., "Bring your own eelpout to race in this specially designed ice track, or you can rent one of ours."
Eelpout Festival-goers dressed as the rock band KISS took a leap during last year's Polar Plunge.
That's good to know, just in case I forget my pet eelpout at home.
And then there's Jim Gerchy's favorite story.
"It's something you have to see at least once in your life."
"I didn't witness it, but I heard the story from more than one person and people I know," Gerchy, head of the festival, recalled. "One year, a guy from Brainerd who went up to the Pout Festival got so tired from fishing that he fell asleep on the floor. There was some water on the floor and the stove had gone out, and when he woke up, he was frozen to the floor. I don't know if he had some of his friends help him get out or what."
Normally, I might question such a story. But at Pout Fest, that's fairly basic stuff, really. Anything - and everything - goes at the annual spectacle.
Expect the same this year, when the 29th annual event - celebrating the gnarly looking fish found in Minnesota waters - is unleashed on Leech Lake and Walker from Friday through Sunday (a complete list of events and details can be found at www.poutfest.com).
"Try to take in as many of the events as you can," Gerchy said. "And don't miss the stuff that we don't list - which is all the crazy stuff that just happens."
Among the events are the encampment contest, which determines the most creative camp/"ice house" setup.
"The encampment contest is a tradition. It's probably the most fun thing," Gerchy said. "Last year, there was one built like a beaver lodge. It's just crazy."
While fishing is mostly secondary at the Eelpout Festival, pouts are the center of attention at the event, and anglers are more than happy to show off the gnarly looking fish, found in Minnesota waters, including Leech Lake.
There's also the Pout Races, Eelpout Peelout 5-mile run, Polar Plunge, Eelpout Bowl/Rugby Tournament, AquaVu Eelpout 500 On-Ice Auto Race, Eelpout Idol Karaoke Contest, Ice Fishing Olympics, International Ice Drilling Championships and a swimwear fashion show.
Oh, and there's a fishing tournament, too.
"The fishing is secondary," said Gerchy, in his sixth year with the festival, he said. "Part of it is a fishing contest. But a survey was done and one of the questions was, 'Do you fish?' And 60 percent answered no. So it's 40 percent fishermen and 60 percent cheerleaders.
"I've heard people call it Mardi Gras on ice, but for true Minnesotans, it's a celebration of winter. It kind of signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring."
According to Gerchy, Pout Fest attracts 6,000-14,000 participants and spectators each year, depending on the weather and ice conditions.
"It's something you have to see at least once in your life," said Gerchy, who said he participated in the event during the early years before eventually taking it over.
The festival usually draws national attention, too, and according to Gerchy, "I just talked to CNN Fortune Small Business, and they're sending one of their staff writers, a photo editor and a photographer. They're going to try to get a handle on the economic impact and benefit."
Getting a handle on anything else, it seems, might be too much too ask.
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at brian.peterson@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864.
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