Welcome to Leech Lake!
Leech Lake is the 3rd largest lake in Minnesota. It is approximately 102,950 acres in size, has a maximum depth of 150 feet and is located in Cass County. View an interactive map of Leech Lake, complete with satellite views and GPS cooridinates, at LakePlace.com’s Lake Finder.
Lake Leech – A Treasure of the North
A 120 mile-long drive “Up North” on State Highway 371 from St. Cloud takes you through some of the best of Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes. Up through Brainerd, the journey takes you past the over 9,000 acre Gull Lake and the 208 feet deep Ten Mile Lake. As you move further north, the area provides a plethora of waterways that make the land seem like Swiss cheese on a topographic maps. Hold out for a few miles longer, though, and you’ll eventually come to Walker, Minnesota and the beautiful shores of Lake Leech.
Lake Leech is protected on almost all sides by the Chippewa national forest, preserving its pristine shores. This immense reservoir covers over 111,000 square acres and plunges to depths beyond 150 feet. The third largest lake in all of Minnesota (second only to the Red and Mille Lacs Lakes) sits in the vast tranquil lands of the north. This area, however, has not always been so tranquil.
Home to a major Indian reservation, Lake Leech was the setting for one of the last Indian uprising of the 19th century called the Battle of Sugar Point. In 1899 – only three years after lumber interests had helped found the town of Walker, Minnesota – federal soldiers based out of Fort Snelling found themselves under heavy fire at Sugar Point. Grievances from the local tribes over the flooding of their lands at the construction of the Lake Leech dam reached a flashpoint when chief Bugonaygeshig was apprehended by federal marshals. His subsequent escape led to the dispatching of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment to help round up any Indians with outstanding warrants. Though history is unclear, it is believed that the accidental discharge from a soldier’s rifle led Indians in the area to believe that they were under attack. In spite of the bloodshed, the actions on that day paved the way for greater understanding and diplomacy between the Leech Lake Ojibwe and local settlers.
Of course, that was the last time that Walker, Minnesota and Leech Lake would be remotely involved in violent disputes. Today the bucolic lakeside town boasts a population of just over 1,000 that can be described as anything but sleepy. The town offers a variety of activities for visitors, ranging from miles of snowmobile and biking trails to unique shopping at their downtown boutiques.
For most, however, it’s the world-class fishing that makes it worth a journey this far north. Lake Leech is recognized as a game fish lake, with regular stocks of walleye, jumbo perch, slap crappies, bass (large and small mouth), muskies and more. Two state record fish were pulled from Lake Leech’s waters, including a Lake Whitefish weighing over 12 lbs., and a Pumpkinseed that weighed almost a pound and a half. Sport fishing is popular past-time year round, but it’s the arrival of a particularly rare fish that creates quite a buzz every year in Walker and Leech Lake.
The International Eel Pout Festival in Walker sees fishing tournaments, ice races, a 5-mile run and even an ice bowling tournament. The Eel Pout (or Burbot) is a fish that is abundant beneath the ice of Leech Lake in the winter time but almost non existent during warmer months. The festival draws visitors from the world over and promises a variety of crazy events throughout its three days.
The quiet town creates quite a stir in the area for the three days that it runs. As of late 2008, no one had won both the EelPout Peel-Out (the 5 mile run) and the Eel Pout fishing tournament; a challenge that is playfully issued by the festival’s website (http://www.eelpoutfestival.com/). The festival has a risqué side as well, holding a special “Swimwear Fashion Show” featuring the girls of the bikini ice fishing team. The festival even receives a visit from the world record-holding ice-hole driller, Sean Spraungel, who can drill three holes in the ice in 8 seconds.
In spite of bikinis, races and rugby, it’s the Eel pout itself that brings many anglers here. Answering to four names – eel pout, burbot, lawyer and “buzzard-bait” – the eel pout is a mean fish that is normally despised by fishermen. The eel pout’s double-digit weight, excessive muscle, and hide-and-seek nature makes line breaks a common occurrence. The catch is a challenging one and despite the smell, the eel pout makes for a delicious meal that some describe as “poor man’s lobster”.
In spite of the seemingly whirlwind nature of the Eel Pout festival, it only represents a small percentage of the area’s year round treasures. Those looking for tranquility and unspoiled natural beauty need not look far. Surrounded on almost all sides by Chippewa National Forest, Leech Lake offers miles and miles of hiking, snowmobiling and biking trails. The surrounding hills create astounding views that will last forever in the minds of visitors. Leech Lake itself is so immense that one will find themselves discovering its secrets over and over again.