12 of the Best Fishing Festivals You Should Attend
When a festival revolves around fish and fishing, it's likely to garner our attention, and fortunately for us, there are fishing fests galore taking place year-round throughout the country
Everyone loves a festival. Great food, fantastic music and fun competitions provide the perfect excuse to gather with family and friends to celebrate local culture, art, cuisine and the outdoors.
Festivals come in all kinds. In my home state of Arkansas, for example, these annual get-togethers celebrate everything from elk, butterflies, watermelons and armadillos to French cuisine, blues music, daffodils and much, much more.
Using the information below, the enthusiastic angler could travel from one great fishing festival to another every month of the year. We suggest you try.
January: Ice Fishing Extravaganza
When the first Ice Fishing Extravaganza was held in Brainerd, Minnesota in January 1991, the Jaycee founders never expected it event would become the world’s largest ice-fishing contest and put Brainerd on the map with a winter event that generates more than $1 million in revenue for area businesses and more than $150,000 for area charities annually.
When festivities begin each year, visitors can watch more than 12,000 ice fishermen on a single bay all drop their fishing lines into the water at once. It starts at noon when a cannon roars and fishing begins in the 2,000-plus holes organizers have pre-drilled into well-frozen Gull Lake. Anglers who catch the biggest fish win part of $200,000 worth of prizes, including trucks, ATVs, generators, ice augers, gift cards, cash and more.
Almost as soon as the cannon sounds, people start running to the center camp with fish to be weighed by the officials. Within two to three minutes, the line will stretch 150 yards long. It stays that way until 3 p.m. when the contest ends.
A variety of food, product and gift vendors are on the ice the day of the event. There’s also a Youth Ice Olympics where kids can test their fish ID skills, turn a hand auger, see who can scoop slush out of an ice hole fastest and play the Recycled Fish “Drop the Bucket” game.
For future dates, visit: icefishing.org
February: International Eelpout Festival
Some might think the eelpout, a weird-looking relative of the cod, is a fish without a following. Not so. At the International Eelpout Festival in Walker, Minnesota, (“The Eelpout Capital of the World”), thousands of eelpout aficionados venture onto the ice to test their skills capturing this delicious, elusive fish also known as the burbot or lawyer.
With tongue tightly in cheek, festival promoters say “pouting” techniques include “calling, snagging, biting, hooking, hypnotizing, glib repartee and others that will remain untold.” Up to 2,000 anglers vie for a 7-foot-tall trophy awarded to whoever catches the biggest eelpout. Other awards are given for Puny ‘Pout, Highest Individual Tonnage, Highest Team Tonnage and the Most Lavish Burbot Bivouac.
All fishing takes place on 112,000-acre Leech Lake. Other events include a beer pong tournament, mechanical bull-riding tournament, kids’ perch jerk, eelpout fish fry, dog sled rides, polar plunge and a bikini ice-fishing show.
For future dates, visit: eelpoutfestival.com
March: Texas Fly Fishing & Brew Festival
2017 marks the first year this event will be held, but we’re certain it won’t be the last. This one-of-a-kind, family-friendly event in Plano, Texas, is an indoor/outdoor celebration of fly fishing – and beyond. Attendees can visit dozens of fly-fishing manufacturers indoors, attend various lectures on techniques and topics interesting to fly anglers of every stripe and then step out into the Texas sunshine to taste some of the Lone Star State’s best micro-brewed beer.
Guests have the opportunity to meet nationally known fly-fishing authors, professional guides, expert casters, custom bamboo rod makers and fly tiers from across the country. And beginners wanting to get their first taste of fly fishing can wander the festival grounds and learn how to fish from a kayak, watch casting and fly-tying demonstrations, take fly-fishing, test the latest rods, reels and other tackle and then sample a variety of delicious microbrews.
For future dates, visit: txflyfishingfestival.org
April: Virginia Fly Fishing & Wine Festival
Organizers say the Virginia Fly Fishing & Wine Festival in Doswell, Virginia is the largest event of its kind in the country, attracting fly-fishing fans from across the United States. Its purpose is to introduce as many people to the sport of fly fishing as possible, especially young families with children. Toward that end there are a variety of free classes aimed at youth, families and women, including ladies-only beginner fly-casting classes, family fly-fishing classes, Boy Scout merit badge classes and youth fly-tying classes.
Seasoned fly-fishing veterans will find plenty to entertain them as well. Meet famed artists and experts like D.B. Krupa and Dave Whitlock. Visit with lodge owners, guides and travel companies specializing in fly fishing. Attend seminars presented by an impressive list of local and national instructors and speakers. And, those 21 and older can enjoy free wine samples from several Old Dominion wineries.
For future dates, visit: vaflyfishingfestival.com
May: Bream Fest
Most days, the population of Felsenthal in south Arkansas hovers between 150 and 160 good souls, depending on who is going grocery shopping, seeing the doctor or any one of dozens of other reasons for temporarily departing the peaceful environs of the remote town. On Memorial Day weekend, all that turns around. The town’s population skyrockets as thousands come to participate in the Felsenthal Bream Fest, a unique get-together started in 1985 that commemorates the scrappy, delicious panfish sought by nearly every angler in the region.
The festival’s main event is a bream-fishing tournament on the waters of the Ouachita River and adjacent lakes. Registered competitors weigh in 20 fish per boat for a chance to win hundreds of dollars in cash prizes for adults and children. Other activities include a boot camp obstacle course competition; baggo, arm-wrestling and horseshoe tournaments; the Camo Country 5K race; kids’ sack races, balloon tosses and casting competitions; plus live music, food and craft vendors, a street dance and a beauty pageant.
For future dates, visit: felsenthal-ar.com/
June: Bullhead Days
The southern Minnesota town of Waterville has the dubious honor of being “The Bullhead Capital of the World.” Some folks don’t care much for bullheads because these little catfish are notorious bait stealers. Their slimy bodies and big mouths won’t win them any piscatorial beauty contest either.
Folks in Waterville have made the lowly bullhead a local icon, nevertheless. They know deep-fried bullheads earn a blue-ribbon for scrumptiousness. And the bullheads’ abundance and ready catchability make them perfect targets for kids eager to catch some fish. Nearby lakes Sakatah and Tetonka produce loads of these bantam cats.
That’s why, in 1964, the Bullhead Capital started Bullhead Days. This annual celebration features street vendors serving deep-fried bullheads, a carnival, flea market, softball and bowling tournaments, a kids’ fishing contest, sailboat regatta, demolition derby, tractor and truck pull, fireworks and parades. It’s a festival folks look forward to every year.
For future dates, visit: vwww.watervillemn.com
July: Kids Fishing Festival
Over in Mammoth Lakes, California, there’s a summer fishing festival just for kids. At the 30th-anniversary event this year, nearby Snow Creek Ponds will be stocked with trout so youngsters can experience the fun of fishing. Loaner rods and reels will be available, and there will be fly-tying lessons so the kids can make a fly, put it on their rods, practice casting with expert volunteers and then catch a trout. There will even be complimentary fish cleaning available so children can take trout home and have them for dinner.
Fisheries staff from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will be on hand to teach children about the state’s trout fisheries. Every child will receive their own California Fishing Passport, a fish identification book, a special coloring book and a junior fishing license. An aquarium full of trout will be available to see, along with Smokey the Bear, taxidermied animals in the game warden recruitment trailer, a laser tag shot booth and much more.
For future dates, visit: kidsfishfest.com
August: Heber Valley Fly Fishing Festival
If fly fishing is your passion, or if you’re a beginner wanting to learn more about the sport, you’ll want to be in Midway, Utah, this August for the fun festivities at the Heber Valley Fly Fishing Festival. Anglers of all skill levels can learn new techniques and fine-tune their skills via the free events offered throughout the weekend by local fly fishing guides and industry experts. Included are kids fly-tying classes, ladies-only fly-fishing clinics, advanced techniques classes with world-champion fly fisher Lance Egan of Cabela’s and best-selling author Dec Hogan, and more.
Competitions on Saturday include the Provo River Kids Fly Fishing Derby, open to youths 15 and under, and a casting competition with amateur classifications for men, women and kids, as well as a pro division for anyone who works within the industry. Guests can visit vendor booths both days to check out the latest gear and meet some of the best and brightest talent in fly-fishing industry today. There’s also a community barbecue and live music. All proceeds will benefit Utah’s military veterans through Project Healing Waters in Salt Lake City.
For future dates, visit: hebervalleyflyfishingfestival.com
September: Ennis-on-the-Madison Fly Fishing Festival
Montana’s Madison River provides fly fishing for rainbow and brown trout that’s second to none. As a result, fly-fishing enthusiasts from around the world are drawn to the historic town of Ennis, “The Fly Fishing Capital of the World,” on the river’s shore. Thousands pour in during Labor Day week each year when the Ennis on the Madison Fly Fishing Festival provides a venue that celebrates this fast-growing sport.
Highlights include fly casting competitions and skill development seminars; tackle vendors; fly-tying demonstrations; conservation group booths; art and literary events; antiques and collectibles displays; plus loads of musical entertainment and piscatorial cuisine. Experts in all areas of fly fishing from fly tying, travel and techniques to equipment, literature, cooking and art have been invited to attend. Proceeds help support the Madison River Foundation, which provides a local voice on the preservation and use of the Madison River ecosystem.
For future dates, visit: madisonriverfoundation.org
October: Fall Fish Festival
Each year during the first weekend of October, the folks of South Lake Tahoe, California and surrounding areas get together at the U.S. Forest Service’s Taylor Creek Visitor Center to celebrate the annual fall migration of the Kokanee salmon. The Fall Fish Festival, formerly known as the Kokanee Salmon Festival, is great for families with children. The event highlights the fish species that live in Lake Tahoe and nearby waterways including the Lahontan cutthroat trout and the salmon that is so important to Tahoe’s bear population.
Attendees can look forward to amusements such as treasure hunts, fish art, streamside educational programs and visits from nature celebrities such as Smokey the Bear. Not to be missed is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s giant inflatable fish. The fish’s tail serves as the gateway to fun activity stations for kids.
Visitors also can take a walk down Rainbow Trail to actually see where the Kokanee salmon spawn in Taylor Creek, and guests are welcome to see the spawning up close in the underground Steam Profile Chamber.
For future dates, click here.
November: Fall Family Fishing Festival
2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the Fall Family Fishing Festival at Withlacoochee River Park near Dade City, Florida. Made possible by the Pasco County Parks, Recreation & Natural Resources Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Fish Florida, this fun-filled event is designed to introduce families to the outdoors, the sport of fishing and the importance of being stewards of Florida’s freshwater ecosystems.
Hands-on activities include fishing in the pristine waters of the Withlacoochee River, wildlife encounters, fishing learning stations and carnival games. There are raffles for prizes, free rods and reels for the first 250 youth participants, face painting, crafts, vendor displays and many other attractions – all at no cost to attendees.
For future dates, visit: pascocountyfl.net
December: Walleye Madness at Midnight
New Year’s Eve takes an unusual twist in Port Clinton, Ohio, “The Walleye Capital of the World.” When the clock strikes midnight, all eyes in this Lake Erie community will be on Captain Wylie, a 20-foot, 600-pound, fiberglass walleye, as he descends from the sky. The “Walleye Drop” highlights the “Walleye Madness at Midnight” celebration, which heralds its 21st anniversary this December 31.
Port Clinton promotes the celebration through participation of local businesses. Restaurants prepare walleye specialties such as walleye chowder, walleye sandwiches, walleye cinnamon chips and walleye popcorn. A local winery has even created a “Walleye White” to honor the city’s walleye fame.
The celebration attracts folks both famous (David Letterman featured Wiley on his Late Night Show) and not-so-famous (couples have married on-site, with Wylie serving as best man). Admission is free.
For future dates, click here.