Why not swap your plastic Christmas tree, with its dusting of fake snow for the real stuff this festive season?
We’re not talking about a winter fishing trip to your local lake, pond or river bank, but a serious ice adventure. It’s time to grab your fishing gear and hop on a plane – or sleigh – for our run down of crazy ice fishing festivals.
When the weather gets chilly, the coolest anglers head North – to North America. Why not join them? Embrace the cold by heading out to where it’s really freezing to try your hand at ice fishing. The great Lakes are a great winter destination, offering a fishing experience with a difference.
From Quebec to Indiana, as soon as the mercury plummets, lakeside fishing resorts switch from boat to snowmobile for the winter ice season. And to kick things off, it’s ice festival time!
Eelpout Festival, Minnesota
Each February, more than 10,000 people descend on Leech Lake, Minnesota for the annual Eelpout festival. Ostensibly a fishing contest, the event has grown to include events like a frozen wet t-shirt competition, kissing the eelpout for good luck and the ‘polar pout plunge’ – donning fancy dress and plunging into the lake. Brrrr.
Not a great looking fish, the eelpout of festival fame is in fact a burbot – a type of freshwater cod that grows up to a maximum of about 25 kg in weight. It’s a bottom feeder with an appearance that’s best described as halfway between a catfish and an eel. But regardless of its looks, its popularity is unquestionable.
Tomcod Ice Fishing Festival, Quebec
Each year from 26th December, some 500 cabins are moved onto the ice of the Rivière Sainte-Anne for the annual Tomcod Ice Fishing Festival. Heated by wood burning stoves and lit by electricity, ice fishing is a comparatively comfortable affair. And with shelters accommodating anywhere between four and 35 anglers, it’s a pretty convivial way to spend a few days.
Travelling with the family? You’ll no doubt be delighted to know that also on offer during the festival, are clowns, live music, ice slides, ice skating, and even a tramway.
Mat Su Pike Derby, Alaska
If Quebec isn’t cold or dark enough for you, why not try the Mat Su Valley in Alaska? Situated 45 miles north of Anchorage, the Matanuska Valley was settled by Americans for the Midwest as part of the New Deal relief program of depression hit America. The area is world famous for the the size of its vegetables – not surprising with specimen cabbages weighing in at over 100 lbs.
But in winter, you’ll be there for the annual Mat Su Pike Derby. The contest runs throughout February and March with prizes for the longest, heaviest, shortest and lightest pike. All you have to do is drill a hole and get fishing. Fish are cooked at the awards banquet, and leftovers are given to charity. And the best part? Pike is an invasive species in Alaska, so you’ll be doing your bit for the environment too.
Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, South Korea
For what is probably the most popular ice fishing event in the world, you’ll need to book a long haul flight to South Korea for the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival. Held every year in late January, the event attracts tens of thousands of people to try their luck for mountain trout.
Through holes cut in the ice, people of all ages try to catch a fish – something they have a very good chance of doing because the rivers stocked throughout the festival. Once you’ve made a catch, one of the many cooking tents will grill or sashimi your trout for you to enjoy.
And if that weren’t enough, for the truly masochistic, there’s the bare handed fishing contest. All you have to do is strip off to t-shirt and shorts and leap into a purpose built fishing pool. Alternatively you could stay home, put your feet up and watch a fishing documentary.