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Eelpout Festival to be held on Leech Lake this weekend

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It takes some imagination to see signs of spring when temperatures are below zero, the woods are full of snow and the lakes are covered with more than 20 inches of ice.

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Despite the persistent cold weather, there are signs of spring if you look hard enough. Baseball starts this week with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona.

There is only one week remaining in the walleye season for inland waters of Minnesota. The season closes for gamefish at midnight on Feb, 24.

There are extended seasons on border lakes between Minnesota and Canada and species like crappies, sunfish, perch, whitefish and eelpout are open continuously in Minnesota.

Anglers will need 2008 fishing and shelter licenses as of March 1, 2008.

The 27th Annual International Eelpout Festival is being held this weekend, with festivities beginning at noon today and culminating with the closing ceremonies at 11 am on Sunday.

The Eelpout Festival is headquartered on Walker Bay of Leech Lake, with many unique booths and exhibits set up in Walker City Park. Spectators are welcome to come and watch and do not have to fish the tournament to enjoy the festival and sample a delicious basket of pout nuggets.

Eelpout are actually freshwater cod and are closely related to cod living in the Pacific, Atlantic and Artic oceans.

Eelpout are a cold water species that live in many of the deep, clear lakes in the northern portion of the United States and Canada.

Eelpout are one of the oldest species of fish living in Minnesota waters, along with other ancient species like dogfish, catfish, gar and sturgeon.

Eelpout are largely dormant in the summer and live in the deepest portion of the lake. They have been captured in water deeper than 1,000 feet in several of the Great Lakes.

Eelpout are most active in the winter, when they are frequently caught by anglers fishing for other bottom feeding species like walleyes and perch.

Eelpout are the first species of fish to spawn in the spring, spawning under the ice in late February or early March.

Eelpout spawn in communal groups on top of mid-lake bars and humps. The eelpout eggs will lie on the bottom of the lake for more than a month, where they finish developing and hatch when the ice goes out on the lakes.

Eelpout have a well developed sense of smell and they are used to finding most of their food in the dark. Eelpout do not have scales and their smooth skin can feel vibrations in the water better than species of fish that have scales.

Anglers should use live bait for eelpout and anglers can experiment adding different scents to their bait to find something the eelpout like.

Presentations for eelpout should be kept close to the bottom. Jigging spoons and jigging minnows tipped with live bait are a good choice for eelpout, with a "dead stick" and an active minnow a good choice for a second line.

Eelpout are night feeders and are most active during low light. Anglers can fish for eelpout on top of humps at night or off the sides of humps during the day.

There is no such thing as too deep for eelpout, but anglers can expect most of the eelpout to be on structure with direct access to deep water in the prespawn period.

Anglers not interested in the Eelpout Festival this weekend can expect increasing activity from walleyes, crappies, sunfish and perch.

Walleyes in most lakes are feeding on structure in the 16-24 foot range during low light and using deeper water during the day.

Perch have been feeding on mayfly larvae or blood worms (midge larvae) on deep mud flats in many of the larger area lakes.

Crappies have been suspending well off the bottom on many lakes, feeding over mud bottom on zooplankton.

Sunfish have been feeding on medium depth flats with either mud bottom or deep weeds on small aquatic insects.

Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235.

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