Not for the faint of heart, ice-fishing is a cold and sometimes lonely pursuit. But on Siberia’s Lake Baikal, it’s often a social activity – something to fill up the long dark hours of winter, as well as to fill up the larder with smoked Baikal omul.
Walking on water Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin
It’s Nice on the IceThe ice on Baikal can get as thick as six feet up north, and is usually two to three feet thick around Listvyanka. From December to March in a typical year you can drive nearly all over the lake. Experienced ice drivers bring several planks of wood to help them get across places where the ice has cracked and fissured as it heats and cools during a 24-hour period.
Canny fishermen auger out a hole through the thick ice, then put an insulated cover over it to keep it clear. That is, if they don’t haul a fishing shack out to the spot on a sled or skis. You can sometimes see a Mongolianger guarding someone’s special fishing hole and sheltering the anglers.
Go fish Photo credit Vladimir Kvashnin
Social FishingOften, groups of people will drive out on the ice to make a day of fishing, bringing warm clothes, snacks, vodka, and boxes to sit on. The locals call these congregations “kamchatkas,” underlining their remote nature, far from town. It’s nice to have other people out there on the ice with you, where there’s nothing else to look at except the flat polar surface of the lake. And, hopefully, a growing pile of fresh-frozen fish.
Another local term is “watching TV,” which describes when you fling yourself down and peer through the hole to see if there are any fish down there.
Smoking on the water Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin
Smokin’ HotBack in town, the catch – especially the endemic Baikal omul – is prepared for smoking. The gutted fish are first salted and then propped open with shaved sticks and smoked. Vendors on the beach wrap the smoked omul in newspaper for people to take home to the city if they haven’t caught their own.
Smoked Baikal omul Photo credit: Helen Holter
The weather outside might be frightful, but the food is quite delightful Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin
Festive FishingEvery March since 2005, the international Baikal Ice-fishing Festival draws hundreds of participants and their fans out onto the lake. Teams of four from Mongolia, China, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and all over Russia compete to catch the most kilos of fish, as well as the biggest fish of the tournament.
Vlad Kvashnin, director of MIR’s affiliated field office, Russian MIR Siberia, won some nice fishing equipment with his prize lenok, or Siberian trout, at the inaugural festival.
Vlad with his prize-winning catch Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin
Ice-fishing can be a solitary pursuit for anglers with jealously-guarded secret fishing holes, but why not make a party out of it, like they do in Siberia?
A party traveling by hovercraft to a good ice-fishing spot Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin
Experience Winter in Siberia with MIRSiberia is an incredible place to visit, especially in winter. You can try your hand at ice-fishing, riding snow machines and mushing Siberian huskies on these MIR winter tours:
MIR has nearly 30 years travel experience in Siberia and MIR affiliate offices in the Siberian cities of Irkutsk and Ulan Ude, offering on-the-ground support and quality you can trust and guides and tour managers that clients rave about.
(Top photo: On frozen Lake Baikal an angler is happy with her catch. Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin)
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