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Big Nets and Cold Fish


Last year, Chagan Lake’s Winter Fishing Festival fell days after Christmas. Chagan is one of China’s 10 largest freshwater lakes, and Jilin Province’s biggest, and its fishing festival remains a grand occasion, although such an event is rare in the 21st Century.

Their fishing methods have been handed down for 1,000 years since as early as the Liao Dynasty (907-1125). In 2008, Chagan Lake Winter Fishing was even designated as a national intangible cultural heritage. Some scholars believe that the fishery is the last of its kind in northern China.

At 4:30 a.m., thermometers on the surface of the lake read minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 F). Before daybreak, fishermen were already working in earnest, pulling nets through the darkness.

Fifty-two fishermen made up the big team, preparing to cast a large net, measuring 13 by 2,000 meters, into the lake covering 506 square kilometers. The team leader, known as the captain, decided where to cut the ice holes for the net.

The captain arrived three hours early to select the site for the holes. The team’s first step involved drilling two rectangular ice holes 2,000 meters apart to pull the net in and out.

The second step produced a circle with the two holes representing six and twelve o’clock on a clock face, respectively. Smaller holes measuring 30 centimeters in diameter were drilled along the arcs between one and five o’clock and between seven and eleven, with each about 20 meters apart.

Next, they hung the net on two wooden poles, each measuring 20 meters, exactly the distance between the small holes. The poles went into the lake at the twelve o’clock hole, with one pointing towards one o’clock and the other towards eleven. The net dropped into the water with help of a metal sinker, and a piece of wood kept the other side afloat. A hooked anchor was employed to pull the pole from one hole to another, with both poles ultimately meeting at six o’clock.

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