While Ussuri Bay, which washes Vladivostok from the east, almost never freezes, the Amur Bay, adjacent to the city from the west, is covered in winter with a thick layer of ice. Ice also covers the bays of Russian Island.
Beginning in December, the characteristic figures of fishermen greet the morning: bundled in sheepskin coats, carrying ice augers, with crates slung over their shoulders; the kind which make sitting on the ice almost pleasant. In recent years, however, Terraco plastic buckets (a Korean spackling compound) are frequently used.
Smelt is the main winter catch in Vladivostok. There are 3 types of smelt found off Primorye's coast: Artic rainbow smelt (the largest at up to 30 cm), Japanese smelt, and the silver smelt, called "pisuch" by the locals, a fish the size of a finger. Smelt are caught using spoon lures, a "samodury" (a multi-hook rig), combines (a spoon lure with a large hook tied below a mormyshka), makalki (a 3-section rod with 6 hook-like guides for winding line). Hooks are baited with small pieces of cloth or other material, and sometimes, marine worms are used. It was popular at one time to use thread from the bows of schoolgirls, fashioned into "beards" and then it was finely chopped green condoms.
It is only when freshly caught that the silvery smelt smell of fresh cucumber. The small smelt are fried and eaten whole, or made into jerky, and in this form are a great accompaniment to beer. There was a time when bunches of dried smelt hung in nearly every window in Vladivostok; in place of curtains.
Another winter fish is the Arctic cod (small unnamed cod are called samarai or Chubais). Sometimes there are also flounder, which due to its shape often gets stuck in the drill-hole. And gluttonous sculpies, considered edible only for cats and seagulls.
Ice fishing for locals is not so much a sport or a way to obtain food as it is a way of life. Fishing quenches man’s primeval need to commune with nature: to be in the present, with the living, the non-digital.
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