Ice fishing. Yes, you heard that right. If fishing for trout in the middle of a river frozen over and braving sub-zero temperatures is up your alley, then you shouldn’t miss the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival (얼음나라 화천 산천어축제).
The festival takes place every January in Hwacheon, known for its fastest ice freezing due to the cold valley wind and clean water, in the Gangwon-do province. By car, it’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Seoul, so it makes for an easy day trip. Plan to be there early though since about 3 tons of fresh trout are emptied under the fishing site every day.
At the festival site, you need to purchase tickets (12,000 won if you’re 12 and above, and 8,000 won for foreigners) to the fishing sites. The price includes a plastic string bag to contain your catch and a 5,000 won coupon which you can use at the stores. A foldable stool would be a very wise investment as you could be at the fishing site for sometime.
Along the way, you’d be approached by enthusiastic ajummas egging you to buy fishing sticks/rods, which unless you already own one, you pretty much don’t have a choice. One will set you back 5,000 won. Rod, stool, bag. All set.
Picking a fishing spot can be a tough one, too. You have to decide if you want to be where the crowd is or a quieter area. And the first-timer in me obviously have no idea which is better. Once you pick a spot, or a hole, to be specific, you drop your line in and you wait.
According to the organizers, one of the tricks is not to be fixated to one spot as swimming patterns of grouped trout changes as the day passes. The river is only about 2m deep and the water clear, so you can peer into the hole and see if the trouts are swimming past.
5 mins in: This is fun.
10 mins in: Hmm.. I’m not getting this.
15 mins in: Ok, this is getting boring.
20 mins in: I think I need to change spot.
25 mins in: Looks into the hole wondering where the fishes are.
40 mins in: Ok, I give up.
That pretty much sums it up. Patience is a virtue which I lack. Fortunately, for those who walked out with an empty bag, you can still buy trouts at the store, which can be barbecued or eaten sashimi style. Fresh catch are swiftly salted, wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in the brick oven tubes.
Steaming hot, piping fresh trout is absolutely heaven in sub-zero temperatures. The picture doesn’t do the taste justice.
Fishing on ice isn’t the only activity at the festival. There’s aplenty going on, from ice sledding to snow sculpture and zip-line to ice soccer, to keep everyone entertained.
The best part of the festival? Standing in the middle of the river imagining what it would be like if it wasn’t frozen over.
The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival happens from Jan 4 to Jan 26, from 8:30AM to 6:00PM daily.