HWACHEON, SOUTH KOREA (XINHUA) – Around 130,000 local and foreign tourists flocked to fish on ice and snatch fish with bare hands at one of the most popular South Korean winter festivals that opened on Saturday in Hwacheon county, about 120 kilometres (km) northeast of the capital Seoul.
The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival was scheduled to last until January 29 with the theme ‘Never freezing warm-heartedness, never melting memories’ as visitors were allowed to fish on top of the ice for Sancheoneo, a mountain trout that is known for living in the first-class fresh water.
Since 2003, the winter festival had been held every January in the remote mountainous county with a population of about 25,000, but it failed to take place in 2011, 2021 and 2022.
Approximately 10,000 fishing holes, slated to be increased to 20,000, were drilled into the ice of a river over the two-km-long, 100-metre-wide area about the size of 24 football fields.
Surrounded by snow-covered mountains, locals and foreigners stood before the holes and moved fishing poles up and down to catch fish on the ice, of which the maximum thickness reaches over 40 centimetres (cm) as the river is one of the country’s first areas to freeze over in winter.
Instead of casting a fishing hook when doing a regular fishing, the ice fishing participants were instructed to unwind fishing lines until the hook reached the bed of the river two to three metres deep, before bobbing fishing poles up and down to entice trout to bite the bait. Because of the simplicity of the ice fishing, both children and adults enjoyed it amid the higher number of visitors that had topped one million since 2006 and hit a record high of 1.84 million in 2019.
Some of the participants jumped with joy after catching fish, and others struggled to separate a slippery trout from the sharp hook. Some claimed two holes with two fishing poles held in both hands, while others sat on small foldable camping chairs to wait for an unsuspecting fish.
Up to three fish that participants caught could be taken home. Otherwise, the fish could be grilled and sliced at a cooking zone.
Organisers planned to release 171 tonnes of mountain trout during the 23-day festival.
“The impact of this festival on the local economy amounts to about KRW100 billion (USD80 million). Around 1,500 local people are now here at the festival to do their economic activities,” Hwacheon Mayor Choi Moon-soon told reporters.
One of the challenging and entertaining events was bare-handed fishing, in which participants dressed in shorts and T-shirts, provided by organisers, jumped into a thigh-deep pool of the freezing cold river water to catch the mountain trout with bare hands in five minutes.
Some of them leapt out of the pool just seconds later as they failed to endure the cold water, while other successful contenders caught fish and stuffed them in T-shirts. One contender posed in front of cameras by kissing his fresh-caught fish.
“It’s cold, but it’s okay. This is really fun,” nine-year-old Park On-you told Xinhua.