Ice Fishing at the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

by Luc Tremblay
Groove Korea (groovekorea.com)

What is the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival?

Being from northern Ontario Canada, I grew up ice fishing and having fun with friends on the ice during winter. In Korea, it is hard to imagine an easily accessible place where you can safely catch and eat fish, have a few beers, and laugh with friends on the ice. Enter Hwacheon City and its huge annual winter festival held every January.

The Hwacheon area is famous for its picturesque setting: clean streams (Class 1 water, which is the best rating for water quality in Korea), mountain trout, and gently sloping mountain valleys. These valleys are swept by cool winds that enable the clear streams to form some of the thickest ice layers in Korea, up to an amazing 40 centimeters, which can handle the weight of ice-goers.

This year’s festival theme is “Unfrozen Hearts, Unforgettable Memories.” Some of the over 30 experience-based programs and attractions include mountain trout ice fishing, ice/snow sledding, special winter bicycles, snow sculptures, ice soccer, ATV riding, and a zip line across the river. A comprehensive English website lists all events and activities at http://www.narafestival.com/07_global/?lang=eng.

From the Hwacheon bus terminal, it is just a short ten-minute walk to the creek where all the action takes place. You can just follow the people walking that way or the fish decorations that line the path towards the fishing area. For first timers, small fishing poles are on sale from the many street-side venders. Be sure to choose wisely as these fishing poles and their shiny hooks will be what lure an unsuspecting fish to bite on your line. Although some poles look more like a fly swatter than a fish catcher, they also make a nice keepsake to show your ice-fishing friends back home.

Once you get to the creek, you can take part in the many different activities along the stretch of the river and its banks. Ice fishing is truly the highlight of the festival and with the water so clean, when you look into the pre-made hole, you’ll be able to see the bottom and the fish swimming around. If you feel brave enough, there is also a hand-fishing pool in which participants get warmed up in a sauna, then jump into waist-deep water to catch fish by hand.

According to the Ice Festival’s website, two to three tons of Sancheoneo fish are brought in every day. Sancheoneo is the name of a fish from the salmon family that can only survive in fresh, cold water. The fish is fairly distinguishable with its deep blue back spot and white silver belly – and most importantly, is easy to clean and delicious to eat.

So, get out there and have some fun. You will truly not regret the fun time you’ll have ice fishing, eating good food and seeing so many cool winter activities at the festival.

What is ice fishing and how to do it?

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, it is basically fishing on top of the ice. No boat is needed as you can walk onto the solid ice. Easier than regular fishing, instead of casting a line, just stand over a hole in the ice and set up the lure to attract the fish. Be careful as it may be a bit slippery so walk cautiously to prevent falls or getting your feet stuck in fishing holes. Small circular holes have been predrilled for everyone; however, with the thickness of the ice, it is still safe for all activities. Find a location on the ice that you like and claim a hole to use. Ensure that the hole is clear of ice and slush before you start fishing. People either scoop out the ice with their hands or use a small basket on a stick. Other ice-goers are friendly enough to lend you their baskets if you don’t want to use your hands.

Now to the fishing. With the small fishing pole, unwind the fishing line and drop the lure into the water until it reaches the bottom – this is when the line is no longer tight and will just look limp. Next, rewind the fishing line around the square part of the pole to raise the lure off the bottom so it can bounce up and down but isn’t hitting the bottom. Reel the line in as little or as much as you like to play with different depths. The next step is to jig – or move your fishing pole up and down – to make the lure move and entice the fish to bite. Once a fish bites, a small snap on the pole can set and secure the hook into the fish’s mouth. Then simply pull the line – and the fish – out of the water. Once the fish is out of the water, remove the hook from its mouth (while holding it carefully as it will be quite slippery) and put the fish in your bag.

Once you have a few fish, decide where to eat them. You can pay KRW 2,000 to get it cooked for you or you can take up to three fish home with you (and the festival even provides plastic bags for you to transport them). The festival site also offers side dishes and beverages to accompany your dish. If no fish are caught (which is a rarity), there are many other food options available

Advice for first timers:

It’s a good idea to arrive at the site early. The fish are generally more active early in the morning and later in the afternoon. Noon is also a great time to explore around the site further and try hand fishing. Dress warmly in layers as the festival is an outdoor event on ice. Small foam pads to sit on or small foldable camping chairs are also advisable for a bit more comfort on the ice. Remember, to catch fish takes practice, so try different up and down movements and pay attention to others who are catching fish – their method might be a winner.

More Info: Seoul Insider will be planning a few one-day group fishing tours. Keep an eye on the Seoul Insider Facebook page for more in December and January.

Date: January 10 to February 1, 2016

Location/Route:  Hwacheoncheon Stream, Hwacheon-gun, Gangwon-do

Contact: 1688-3005 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

Cost: – KRW 12,000 won for accessing the fishing areas (and KRW 5,000 voucher for local products and activities).
•Extra costs for riding ATVs, the zip line, food, ice fishing pole.
•You can eat the fish that you catch for lunch (KRW 2,000 fee to have them cook it for you) or take up to three fish with you when you leave (plastic bags provided).

More info Links:

Festival homepage: http://www.narafestival.com/07_global/?lang=eng

Hwacheon Tourism Homepage: http://tour.ihc.go.kr/hb/eng/sub03_01

Seoul Insider Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/seoulinsider

Transport: Take the bus from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeong Station, Line 2) to Hwacheon Bus Terminal. Buses run from 7.05am and takes about 2 hours 40 minutes (KRW 13,900). Last bus to Seoul leaves at 8.10pm.  (http://www.narafestival.com/07_global/?lang=eng&f_code=01_03)

groovekorea.com

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