Leech Lake, MN
Leech Lake, MN
Northern Minnesota's most loathsome catch, the eelpout, is a heinous fusion of a catfish's head, and an eel's body. Yet the Leech Lake community showcases it as a tourist draw because ... well, Paul Bunyan was already taken.
To be fair, a spoonful of eelpout chowder is worth a try.
"The eelpout looks terrible," says Marty Conway of Marine Max in Walker, Minnesota, Leech's main lakefront town, "but it actually tastes pretty good. The water is so cold and deep up here that most fish that come out of the lake, the flesh is firm. That's the key to having a good fish to eat."
Aside from the eelpout -- at its chilly best during February's annual International Eelpout Festival but caught year-round (unintentionally) -- serious Leech Lake boaters target the beloved walleye and the jumbo-size local strain of spotted muskie. The variety of fishing is part of what makes the state's third-largest lake unique among the 10,000 others.
Lay of the Land
Leech is literally seven lakes in one. More than 100 years ago, a federal dam pooled a collection of glacier-dug lakes together to form Leech Lake. As a result, "it's got about every habitat you could want, from well-vegetated bays to shallow rock bars to deep-water humps," says Pat Rivers, large lake specialist for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Where They're Biting
Still, one spot rules during May's walleye opener: Pine Point, between the deep Walker Bay on the west side and the relatively shallow main body. Up to 400 boats converge there, though early-season fishing can be good off any windy shoreline. Spring fishing finds muskies in the weeds of Sucker and Boy bays on the north and east, with northern pike, largemouth bass, crappie and various panfish also in the mix.
With plenty of fish, tall pines and family resorts, Leech Lake is just missing a Paul Bunyan attraction for the full "Up North" experience. The nearest such landmark is a statue of his alleged sweetheart, Lucette, 13 miles south in Hackensack. Unfortunately, she makes even an eelpout look pretty.