There are few things as universal as fishing, and as the water freezes over in the winter months, anglers around the world prepare to ditch their warm-weather gear for ice fishing equipment instead. Ice fishing is perhaps most popular in North America, from Canada’s famed Lake Simcoe to the world’s largest annual ice fishing tournament on Minnesota’s Gull Lake. Yet anglers in other places are just as enthusiastic over this age-old winter tradition. Whether they are fishing with lines, nets, spears, or some other contraption, ice fishing is generally a time for family and socializing.
And of course, fish.
Anglers around the world may use different gear and have different customs, but the basic art of ice fishing remains the same: be safe, be careful, and have fun.
1. South Korea—Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival
Hwacheon county is typically the first region in South Korea to freeze over, making it a popular destination for the country’s ice fishermen. The annual ice festival held here is among the largest in the world and brings in about a million visitors to the Bukhangang River every year. Fishing is not the only activity that you can pursue here, and visitors can watch artists carve ice sculptures, take part in a sled race, or even play soccer on the ice. The primary attraction, however, is the lake’s seemingly endless supply of fish. Armed with rods, colorful plastic ladles, and even their bare hands, anglers of all ages try their hand at catching dinner. Fish can be grilled right on the ice for a quick treat as well.
2. The Arctic—Baffin Island and Nunavik
The Inuit anglers of Canada’s remote north have been ice fishing for countless generations, and the methods they use today are among the most time-tested in the world. The technology of ice fishing has changed much in the past few decades, and although many anglers have switched to modern tools and techniques, some still keep traditional methods alive. Watch as BBC’s Ray Mears learns how to fish from the anglers of Nunavut’s Baffin Island.
Want to go even more basic? Watch this video about anglers fishing the Koroc River.
3. Mongolia—Lake Ugii
Mongolian anglers also rely on centuries-old techniques to catch one of the most valuable food fish in the world: carp. Yet that does not mean that modern gear and methods are shunned. Instead, ice fishing in Mongolia’s Ugii Lake is not too different than what you would see in North America or Europe.
4. Russia—Mozhayskoe Reservoir
Just a few hours west of Moscow, thousands of anglers gather every year for the People’s Fishing Festival held at the Mozhayskoe Reservoir. A challenger for the largest ice fishing competition in the world, the festival welcomes anglers of all ages and backgrounds.
“Russia has 25 million amateur fishermen who spend their strength, time and money to have such a good and positive pastime,” Alexander Saveliev, head of the Russian fishing agency’s public relations, told RT. “This event is very important because it unites people in one common positive bust of inspiration. Fishing is part of our national culture, and I think you will be easily convinced of that when you see how many fishermen are gathering here.”
Fishing in Russia’s more remote locations, such as the ancient Lake Baikal, is a different matter entirely. Away from the crowds of Mozhayskoe, ice fishing in Russia can be daunting. Take a look at travel journalist James Brown as he attempts to learn ice fishing the Russian way—as well as some useful survival skills.
5. China—Chagan Lake
Crowds of 100,000 people gather at China’s Chagan lake every year to celebrate fishing, hunting, and all things outdoors-related. In temperatures well below zero, anglers dressed up in fur hats and thick coats, hoping to net some fish. It is said that catching a fish during the festival brings good luck, and the festival is filled with folk dances, celebrations, and a large fish market to auction off the largest catches.
You can watch footage from 2013’s festival below.
6. Sweden—Torne River
Like much of northern Europe, ice fishing is as common for tourists as it is for the residents. Whether you’re fishing the Torne River in northern Sweden, or relaxing at your fishing hole near Jukkasjärvi’s famous ice hotel, Sweden has a lot to offer for anglers. Just be sure to take in the view as you sit on the roof of the world.
You can also read our picks for most exotic and dangerous places to ice fish in the world.