Ice Fishing Festival with Adventure Korea by Jessica Wray, Curiosity Travels

When I signed on for a second year of teaching in Korea, I dreaded knowing I”d have another freezing winter to get through. However, there was one thing I was actually excited about– getting to finally go ice fishing. I even put it on my 25 before 25 list because it”s been something I”ve really wanted to do.

Don”t get me wrong, I”m not an avid fisher or anything, but for some reason (even despite hating the cold) I still wanted to do this. It may have had something to do with wanting to pretend I was an Eskimo for a day and getting some cool pictures on the ice… So, when Adventure Korea asked to me attend and document, I was more than thrilled. Now, I could not only pretend I was an Eskimo for the weekend ..but also that blogging was my real job. Assah.

Simon and I loaded on the Adventure Korea bus bright and early Saturday morning in order to make it to the festival with ample time for all the activities. Once we got there, we were provided with tickets into the grounds and a fishing pole before being escorted to the “foreigner”s fishing area.” While I thought it was strange the festival had arranged a separate area just for foreigners, (some might use the term discrimination..?) I actually enjoyed it. We had ample space, as well as a selection of free holes to choose from. Furthermore, no one was too serious about it. Taking a look into the Korean sections, I noticed people jammed packed together fighting for holes. They seemed to be camping out there for the entire day, competitively catching as many fish as that river would allow.

The ice fishing was also surprisingly easy. After being shown the tricks of the trade by someone working at the festival, I caught a fish within 10 minutes. It was all about a strong flick of the wrist, lowering the fishing line into the water and snapping it up. It was this method that allowed me to snag that first fish by the tail! After being particularly uneasy about touching the fish to get the hook out, Simon had to help when I yelped with every wiggle of its body underneath my hands. Once the hook was out, our group guide insisted I take a picture of it in my hands, and though completely uncomfortable with it I made myself do it anyways.

Within the next 20 minutes Simon had caught us another two fish. His “wrist flicks” must have been particularly strong when hooking these fish as they lead to a nasty blood bath on the ice afterwards. Having caught and unhooked enough fish, we took our prizes to the cooking area where we had them prepared for us. It was a perfect lunch in the mountains, two grilled trout and the other fried and smothered in a sweet and sour style sauce.

After our lunch Simon and I went to explore the rest of the festival. I was amazed with how much there was to do. ATVing, sledding, ice biking, zip-lining, ice soccer…the list went on. We had a great time walking around and people watching with a bottle of soju (for warmth purposes only) in hand.

At 1:30 we met for the main event of the day– bare handed trout fishing, in the frozen river. While this was definitely the most awful sounding activity in my opinion, it also sounded like the most ridiculous, and I knew we had to take part. Along with many others in the Adventure Korea group, we went to the event area, were given a change of clothes, a locker and some slippers and were escorted to the colosseum of bare handed ice fishing. A mass of Koreans surrounded the pool and they cheered us on as we shivered out of the tent and into the “arena”. Inside the pool, the mountain trout swam peacefully, not know their upcoming fate.

Luckily for us, this weekend was a particularly warm one in Korea. It was only about 30 degrees! (or about -1 Celsius). We sat around the edge of the pool in our shorts and t-shirts and after some announcements and jokes in Korean, which none of us understood, we were told to put our feet in the water. Instantly, I realized how dumb of an activity this was, as I felt my foot go numb and tingly immediately when I submerged it in water. We all hollered and screamed, knowing in a few minutes we were to completely jump in. Though I didn”t want to, I had a bigger priority….I was the self-appointed “photographer” for God”s sake, with waterproof camera case in hand. I HAD TO do it. After a few unlucky folk splashed around in the middle for the crowd, it was time for us all. 1…2…3…. and we were in! Well, I thought we were all in….until I turned around and saw that Simon had already given up!

“No, no no….we don”t even need any more fish! I don”t need to do this!”

For a few more minutes I hobbled around until my legs turned a shade of purple and I could no longer feel them. Simon lifted me out and I continued to stand barefoot on the ice to get some more pictures. I soon forgot about how cold I was by witnessing how crazy some people were being. Not only were they actually functioning and walking around catching fish, they were then proceeding to trap them inside their shirts as they went for more. And then the most shocking part happened, the Koreans in the pool decided inside the shirt wasn”t good enough, so put the fish head first, into their mouths.

After that ridiculous experience, a nice hot spa awaited us to defrost of numb and frozen legs. It was hard enough to walk to the spa only after a few minutes in the pool, I can”t imagine how some reached it after being in longer.

At around 4pm we left the festival to be taken to our “pension” (Korean style hotel) about an hour away in the snowy Baekwoon Valley. We were given assigned rooms, which of course were in the typical Korean fashion, a big room with mats which were to be slept on over the heated floors. We were treated to a filling and delicious BBQ, and then the party truly kicked off. We went outside to witness the biggest bonfire I”d ever seen. A mountain of kindling wood and tangled twigs were drenched in gasoline, repetitively, and then ignited to produce the largest un-natural bonfire, ever known to man. We also roasted marshmallows (and our eyebrows) whilst drinking Cass and soju. The night ended all gathered around the noraebang (karaoke) microphones, singing/yelling Bohemian Rhapsody for the whole valley to hear.

The next day we had the option to hike, or wander around a near-by ice sculpture festival, which of course after all that soju, Simon and I opted for the latter. Though compared to the ice fishing festival, this one was pretty underwhelming. It was still nice to walk around the snowy and sleepy village we were staying in. Snow covered mountain surrounded the valley and cute dogs were at almost every corner. I sure hope all these dogs were just pets, but I”m worried about the alternative…. In the early afternoon, we hopped back on the bus and back into the honking, bustling city-life of Seoul.

With my time in Korea coming to an end and only 4 weeks left, I am thrilled to have been able to spend one of my last weekends on such a great trip. Unfortunately, there won”t be any more ice fishing tours this year, but if you find yourself in Korea next winter, then look no further than this one. It had thrills, spills (I recommend shoes with good traction!) and plenty of well, gills.

As for the rest this winter, there are still a handful of other snowy Adventure Korea trips to partake on. This weekend they are holding a trip to the Mt. Taebaek Snow festival along with numerous skiing/snowboarding trips in the weekends to come. For information on these upcoming trips, and how to sign up, visit the Adventure Korea website.

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