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Catching a Moment - Icy fish, warm vodka

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [157] | Scholarship Entry

‘I can’t do this,’ I thought. The idea of ice fishing in Siberia sounded romantic but now I was stuck on a lake, two hours from Ekaterinburg, for the entire day, likely to freeze to death within the hour. Every local we had met on the Trans Siberian so far had made it clear that our Australian bought clothing was woefully inadequate, I was beginning to agree.

The lake was stunning; a silvery white blanket stretched out for miles, framed by snow blanketed silver birch on one side and harsh black power lines on the other stretching out toward the distant Ural mountains, but the excruciating cold was hard to ignore.
“It’s safe,” our local guide, Alexi reassured us, offering quilted fishing overalls and valenki that would dwarf a small giant.
“The lakes are new frozen but I think this is maybe 7cm,” he picked up the gear we would need for the day and stepped out onto the ice, “most people say this is good to walk on.”

Aware that my new hefty Russian winter attire effectively doubled my weight on the fresh ice, I paused for a fraction as he offered the further reassurance that ice as thin as 5cm would probably be okay to walk on. I was getting warmer though, so I reprioritised and kept walking.

“This is good,” nodded Alexi, after we had passed dozens of men, there since the midmorning dawn. They all appeared huge in their clothing, perched on tiny stools with their backs to the wind that blew ice dust across the lake in dancing ribbons.

After setting up a little tent, we drilled our holes in the ice - a reassuring 10cm thick. Within our shelter, Alexi armed us with tiny fishing rods that looked like carnival toys. Excitingly, and predictably, the first catch of fish necessitated vodka for all.
Warm in our little tent, we squeezed together over our ice holes and accumulated a large pile of spikey black fish. Thankfully vodka wasn’t required with every catch – just the special ones; very big fish, very small fish, very black fish…

With the occasional break to stretch and inspect our neighbours’ hauls, and a lunch feast of more vodka, cheese, smoked pork fat and cabbage salad, the day flew by. As the sun began its early decent we packed up our things and crunched our way back to the car. I marvelled that in the future, on any given Sunday while I lazed in the Australian summer, a million Russian men would be sitting in isolated camaraderie on every lake from Moscow to Irkutsk, backs to the wind, enjoying the cold comfort of waiting for the perfect catch.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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