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March 09, 2005

Sakhalin: Ice-Fishing

I had no idea what to expect when I went ice-fishing. I vaguely imagined carving a big hole in the ice with a saw like they do in cartoons (making sure I wasn't in the middle of the circle). Well it turns out I wasn't too far off (except for the saw).

We hired a local guide named Sasha, who was recommended by a Russian guy we know, and he picked us up at the hotel at 7.30. As we hurtled along the icy roads, blindly overtaking at 120kph, I wondered if we'd even make it to the sea in one piece. There were no seat belts in the car because, as Sasha told us, "I will not crash." Right. Jen is working on a Road Safety Awareness campaign and has seen a fair few gory pictures of car accidents recently and I've looked at her materials focussing on winter driving, seat belts and overtaking, so we were both hyper-aware back seat drivers. But we did make it to the sea without becoming accident statistics for Jen's campaign (oh, the irony) and the scenery on the way was beautiful (and also helped to distract from the sight of oncoming traffic as we swerved in and out of our lane). It was a typical Sakhalin morning - bright, sunny and freezing - and the early sun lit up the mountains and frozen lakes.

We parked at Lesnoye "beach," which is apparently a lovely spot in summer, but for most of the year is under ice. We bundled up in winter gear that Sasha had brought along for us - huge heavy coats, waterproof trousers, lined galoshes-type boots and hats and gloves. We put these on top of the clothes we were wearing and were so layered-up that our arms stuck out from our sides. We stomped off feeling like astronauts onto the Sea of Okhotsk!

We took a snowmobile for around a kilometre and there were hundreds of people out on the ice by the time we got there at about 9.00. We started drilling holes with hand augurs, which was the most satisfying thing as you turned the handle for about a metre and then - whoosh - felt it give as it went through to the water underneath. My patch of ice looked like Swiss cheese when I was done with it. We sat on little stools (or were 'too cool for school' like Christiaan) and dropped the fishing lines down, then started on the vodka and cognac. There were lots of hooks on the line, but no actual bait. The fish (which were smelt and saffron cod) didn't seem to mind, however, and obligingly nibbled away. I caught about 4 fish, which was small fish (ha) compared to the others, but I have to admit I wasn't too keen on the whole 'fishing' thing and put mine back as I didn't want to watch them die thrashing around on the ice. The 'vodka' thing and the 'eating' thing were a whole different story though. We ate cheese sandwiches and soup, and had a grand old time being out on the ice. Jen and I fulfilled our dream of falling face first into deep snow (something you don't want to try in Yuzhno unless you want a mouth full of dog pee or litter) and had a big snow fight with Richard and Lorraine (who took some of these pictures). It was just a fantastic feeling to be out on the frozen ice sheets with the mountains behind and the Pacific in front with some great people and poor dead fish (I know. I should get a grip).

Posted by Rowena on March 9, 2005 08:09 AM
Category: Russia
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