I finally got out to visit one of the many ice fishing festivals that take place in Korea’s wintertime. Through one of my tours, I was able to take a group to the Jaraseom Sing Sing Ice Fishing Festival in Gapyeong. The things to do here is to catch fresh water trout and eat it immediately! Many back and forth thoughts on these festivals, but the bottom line is that they are just flat out fun! There are at least half a dozen ice fishing festivals taking place in parts of Gangwon and Gyeong-gi Provinces right now and will mostly end sometime towards the last weekend in February. I came onto a lesser advertised festival called the Jaraseom Sing Sing Winter Festival near Nami Island in Gapyeong just a little over an hour from Seoul.
When we got there, they let us park on an empty field. Because its not paved, watch out for puddles and mud when walking towards the festival’s main area. Walk towards the ticket booth to get your entry into the frozen stream. Tickets were 13,000 won (a little less than $13), but they give you a 5,000 won gift certificate to be used on anything at the festival, including food and fishing equipment.
As you are walking towards there, several things come to mind. On one hand you are wowed by the shear number of people standing on top of that frozen pond. And to think, there are drilled holes in the ice about 3 meters from one another where you stick your fishing rods in to catch fish, so the ice has to be super thick.
On the other hand, you notice that there is a massive river right next to the pond and NONE of which is frozen at all! What’s up with that?? That’s when things start to kick in about the authenticity of the ice festival. Being on the 38th parallel, we have volatile weather conditions, so its not going to be frozen over the entire winter. Instead we artificially freeze the part of the stream to ensure the safety that no one plops through.
Authentic or not, it’s not the point of the festival as there are still tons of people out there having a great time. So as soon as you pay for your entrance, follow these instructions to get the most out of your ice fishing experience:
1. They’ll give you a sticker ticket and a fastener. Loop the fastener into one of your zippers and peel the sticker portion of your ticket onto it, much like you would for a ski lift ticket. Make sure it’s visible for the personnel to see. A picture of the ticket is shown at the top of this post.
2. Next walk out and you’ll be greeted with vendors in tents selling you fishing equipment. Unless you are an expert, just get the plastic fishing rods that are shaped like rectangle nets (3-5,000won). There are 2 kinds of hooks on these rods: 1 with a single hook for the passive fisher. The 2nd one with 3 barbed hooks for the aggressive hunter type. It’s up to you and the type of experience you want. I caught 3 fish that day. 2 with the 3 barbed hooks and 1 with single hook. I thought that you would need bait, like hooking worms but that isn’t the case here for trout fishing.
3. From the same vendors, you will need to also get an ice scooper (1,000 won). This is to prevent your ice hole from getting frozen over. From time to time, you’ll need to scoop out ice that starts to settle in and around the hole when you sit there for a long time or go to a new unattended ice hole.
4. Make sure to bring some kind of small chair to sit on or buy one there for 5,000 won. It’s not bad, given you get this tiny foldable stool that you can take home. But obviously if you have one at home then it makes sense to bring it with you to the ice festival.
5. Once you have your equipment, make your way out to one of the many gates and find a good hole to fish out of. Show the gate keeper your ticket fastened onto your zipper. You are not allowed to drink alcohol or be drunk while being out there. For your own safety.
6. Scoop out the ice with your ice scooper and plop your hook into the water. If you are using the 3 hook fishing pole then you need to be attentive. Look into the hole and as soon as you see a fish swim by, try to snag the hook onto any part of the body. It doesn’t need to eat the hook, hence you don’t need any bait.
7. If you are using the 1 hook fishing pole, then you can just sit on the chair and wait for one to snag onto your hook. I only caught 1 using this method out of the 3 that I caught, but this allows you to just chill, talk or play with your smart phone while you are fishing. Again, if you want to be aggressive with the fishing, go for the 3 pronged hook. In the event you lose a hook, you can always buy another one at the vendor tents for 2000 won.
8. While fishing, just make sure that your hook is a little lower than mid-level from the ground to the water. Also the water is not that deep so make sure you sit at a hole where you can see clearly the bottom. Some people like to bounce the pole to make the glittery bait shimmer, but I think the best thing to do is to just slightly move it around giving it the appearance of being another fish in the water. Bottom line is to make sure that the hook is not just sitting on the floor of the pond otherwise you’re going to be wasting a lot of time.
9. You could sit there for hours and not catch any fish. Some people don’t so take a light heart when you go out there. Don’t stress out and just have fun. It’s a great way to talk to Koreans who are otherwise usually shy in their raw form. Also the limit on the number of fish you can take out is 3 per person. They say if you catch more then just give it to someone who wasn’t as fortunate. If you don’t catch any fish, you can buy one for 20,000 won. Don’t worry. If you are determined, you will catch one.
10. Another thing that gave the Ice Fishing Festival a bit of an artificial feel is the fact that they are manually filling the pond with new farmed trout. This is also the point where you realize that you are not standing on a frozen pond, river or stream anymore. But this is really an artificially frozen reservoir that was just made net to the Buk Han River.
11. The good thing is that you feel an appreciation for the whole entire experience the people of this community are trying to give for you. Yes, it is farmed trout they are pouring into the middle of the reservoir. But come to think of it, you want to eat it right after so its good that its not something wild that’s been eating trash in the river. And yes, you are out in a man-made reservoir but the good thing is that it contains all the fish so that you know they are around and not swimming off to freedom.
12. If you are turned off and only want authentic ice fishing then find something yourself out in the wilderness. Going to one of these Ice Fishing Festivals offers safety as well as healthy fish. And that’s whats the best part of this whole ice fishing experience: The fact that you get to eat what you catch! Overall this is a great experience for the family, a date or just by yourself even.
Once you have the fish you want to eat, you can prepare a number of ways to be eaten. You can have it sashimi’d up or you can have it gutted, salted and wrapped in aluminum foil for 5,000 won. I opted for the latter as there were stoves to grill them on lit by oak wood. It’s the same stoves they use to cook up sweet potatoes in Korea. Just pull out one of the stove containers and put your aluminum foil wrapped fish in there. Kind of a nice nostalgic effect on you.
When grilling your fish, make sure you try and get a stove container close to the bottom of the stove. That’s where the heat is the strongest. They suggest cooking it on each side for about 10 minutes each. There is a guy on duty to help you with flipping over your fish, but he is not responsible for watching over your fish in the event you over cook it. If you get a middle container it could take 20 minutes on each side and much longer for the containers at the top.
But once you are done grilling it, take it into the tent area where there are benches and chairs. There you can also get trout soup and trout salad. They also sell fried tempura things which makes a nice addition to what you are eating. Also along the strip of the ice fish festival there are tents setup that sell the basic fare like chicken-on-a-stick and ddeokboki, as well as all your favorite desserts.
Overall, the Jaraseom Sing Sing Festival was a lot of fun. If you can’t stand the patience needed for fishing, they had all sorts of different activities taking place such as sledding and ice bumper cars. There were also family and couple tents that you could fish out of, but you need to reserve online to get those. They looked a bit lonely being off to the side. Being out where all the people and action were seemed to be the place to be.
For a list of all the winter and ice festivals taking place in Korea, take a look at the Visit Korea site here. You can also look on that site to find out how to get to them.
If you want us to figure it all out for you, we’d be happy to arrange your ice fishing trip in Korea. Inquire about ice fishing here.