Tradition with a twist at Korea's Trout Festival

People take part in ice fishing on a frozen river in Hwacheon

SOUTH KOREA - For six weeks during winter, visitors from across South Korea make the pilgrimage to Jinbu-myeon to try their hand at the traditional winter sport of ice fishing. With patience and precision, ice fishing participants pull a lure, ideally with a fish attached, through a small hole carved in the ice. The snowcapped surroundings of the Pyeongchang Trout Festival provide a picturesque reward for this patience, and go a long way toward eliminating any of the mild frustrations associated with fishing. Throw in a dose of bare-handed fishing, and you have a sport that's almost deserving of Olympic glory.

Nestled in the lap of the Taebaek Mountains, the festival takes place on the Odaecheon Stream and is one of South Korea's biggest winter festivals. Two areas of the stream are cordoned off for traditional ice fishing, and visitors can reel in a catch from the comfort of a brightly colored tent for 20,000 won (S$23.60), or brave the elements on the open ice for 13,000 won. While those more practiced in the art of ice fishing and winter festivals often elect to bring their own rod and bait, first-timers or the forgetful can purchase a rod for between 3,000 won and 15,000 won.

Once out on the ice, it's easy to see why thousands of visitors make the journey to Jinbu-myeon every year. The tranquility afforded by ice fishing is unique, and the quiet murmurings of the fishermen and -women is only broken by periodic shouts of excitement when a trout is reeled up through one of the holes that dot the ice.

The thrill of the catch and the important traditional role of the winter festivals cut across generations. Parents cautiously chase inquisitive toddlers across the ice, and grandparents sit alongside teenaged grandchildren instructing them on the finer points of ice fishing, nearly always bagging more of the speckled mountain trout than any of the youngsters.

While ice fishing is the main attraction, the festival has many other events on its drawcard such as sledding, skating and ice-bike riding. Available for 6,000 won each, or purchasable as part of a package for upwards of 25,000 won, these activities have boosted the appeal and prominence of the Pyeongchang Trout Festival, turning it into one of the most popular and successful festivals on the winter calendar.

If the cold gets to be too much, you can relax in the warmth of the large cafe and refuel with some of the traditional local fare on offer, or have one of the spoils of your ice fishing adventure cooked right in front of you. Local performer Lee Gyung-yoon provides the entertainment with his impressive repertoire of Korean and Western chart toppers, and anybody who gets up and sings alongside him is rewarded with lunch on the house: freshly cooked mountain trout.

Gangwon Province operates a daily shuttle bus service between Seoul and Jinbu-myeon, departing from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal at 8 a.m. and leaving the Pyeongchang Trout Festival at 5 p.m. Inquiries can be made at their information desk in the Donghwa Duty Free building, or by calling 1577-5944.

The Pyeongchang Trout Festival ran from Dec. 20, 2013, to Feb. 2, 2014.

By Kate Bolster (