It took us almost two years to finally go ice fishing. Considering what a fishing fanatic I am this is actually ridiculous. Each time we planned to go our plans were thwarted by work (the Korean last minute “didn’t we tell you about it two months ago-you have training on Saturday”) or weather (the -17°C plus wind chill factor that us Durbanites just can’t handle).
This Lunar New year long weekend finally gave us the opportunity to road trip up to Hwacheon to go do some ice fishing! Although we have always been hesitant to drive this far North, this was the last time we were able to take a road trip in our little blue lightning.
The festival starts at 8:30 in the morning with ticket sales starting at 8am. Naturally, I wanted to be there by 7:55. The cold and an iced over windshield when we left our guesthouse in Chuncheon meant we only got there after 8. This wasn’t a problem though, as it was on Saturday and the actual Lunar New year day so most people were at their family homes celebrating. Lucky for us. It was bitterly cold though! After we had found a very helpful gentleman at ticket sales who explained every thing to us we settled on the reserved fishing area. There is also a foreigner only area where you can fish and they have guides who speak English but we were there so early that it wasn’t ready yet and we figured we’d be okay fishing amongst the “regular” Koreans.
After buying tickets at 8000 won per person (which also included a 5000 won agricultural voucher, more on that later) we had to get ‘fishing tools’. These turned out to be a short plastic pole with a twisted spatula type shape at the end. There were quite a few to choose from but these seemed to be the standard. Attached to this was fishing line and a small minnow type lure. We also got a scoop to keep the ice out of our fishing holes and some hot packs to keep our hands warm! These ended up spending more time on our feet as standing on the ice for a few hours means frozen toes!!
We headed out onto the iced over river to look for a spot to fish. After some staring around and looking sheepish we figured out we needed a large chisel to actually clear out the holes that had frozen closed again overnight. This strenuous activity warmed me up quite nicely. We looked to see what other people were doing and tried to imitate them. You just hold the rod in your hand and jerk it up and let the lure drop again slowly to attract a fishes attention. Even if the fish doesn’t go for your lure you also have a chance of just hooking into a random fish that swims past. Apparently anything goes here. After about 30 minutes we hadn’t caught anything and people all around us seemed to be catching loads! The couple next to us even came and gave me a lesson. We then moved holes, more chiseling, and hoped for better luck. It wasn’t long until I got my first fish, unfortunately it was hooked in the side so it didn’t feel quite right to me. Not long after, Kayley hooked a nice fish that turned out to be our biggest of the day. The limit is 3 fish per person. You get given a plastic bag to keep your fish when you purchase a ticket. We did eventually bag our limit of 6 fish. A few times while we were fishing they came and filled up the fishing holes with more fish. Two guys just walk out onto the ice, look for a suitable hole and dump a bucket of trout in to the water!
Having caught our limit the next step was to eat them!! You have two options here. You can have them sashimi’d or wrapped in tin foil and steamed. Our first choice was sashimi and it was a welcome relief from the cold to be inside a nice warm tent with a plate of fresh sashimi and some beers. The price is 2000 won per fish for either of these options and you can purchase sides as well.
After feeling a bit refreshed we decided to walk around and see what else there was to do and also to figure out what to do with our agricultural vouchers. There are loads of activities on offer, zip lining, ice skating, tobogganing, ice tubing, bare hands fishing and traditional Korean games to name a few. Some activities were free. There were also some big ice sculptures to gawk at. We found a stall where we could spend our vouchers and had a look around. It had the usual offering of strange dried things in bags and lo and behold – some makgeolli! We walked out with a box of 5 bottles for a total of 10 000won. They had allowed us to combine our two vouchers, so to us it seemed like we got a free box of makgeolli! Win!!!
Excited with our bargain we wandered around some more. I got sidetracked and stared at other people fishing more traditionally with fishing rods and spinning tackle. I was keen to try this but we already had 6 fish and didn’t want anymore. Sport (catch and release) fishing is not really thing at these festivals.
We had two more of our fish steamed and washed them down with a few beers whilst basking in the sun before deciding to head home. On the way back to the car we did witness the spectacle that is the bare hands fishing. Participants have to get into a pool of water wearing shorts and a t-shirt and chase the fish around until they can catch one. Not so easy when it is a circular pool and the water is freezing!!
Check out our video at the festival on our Youtube Channel here
What has been the most interesting or exciting festival you’ve been to in Korea or elsewhere?