March 01, 2003

Midwinter Fish Fest


ome winter, Russia’s rivers and lakes freeze over with a thick layer of ice. This is the moment thousands of Russians have waited for, when they can head out onto the ice for a favorite winter sport—ice fishing (see page 26). Bundled in padded jackets and fur caps, they sit for hours, hunched over holes that they’ve chiseled or bored into the ice. For most of the fishermen (and most are, in fact, men), equipment is rudimentary, only a twig with some minnows or mosquito larvae for bait. Lately a few Mercedes have been sighted on the ice, with their owners dressed in the latest bright microfibers, but they seem out of place. Russian ice fishermen are generally a tough breed, sitting patiently on their metal boxes as they wait for a bite.

And wait they must. Fish are notoriously sluggish in the cold winter waters, so they don’t bite as aggressively as they do in the summer. Sometimes a dozen or more holes must be cut before one is found where the fish are biting. Because the fish don’t tug at the line, real Russian fishermen don’t wear gloves, so that their hands will be sensitive to the slightest nibble. The nature of this sport fits perfectly with two poles of the Russian character. It provides an opportunity for wonderful camaraderie, especially when there’s a bottle or two of vodka to share for warmth. Conversely, it can offer a special kind of solitude, a moment for reflection and meditation on the beauty of the Russian winter landscape. 

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