Years ago, someone mentioned the indoor fishing bars that exist somewhere in Korea. One of my extended family loves fishing as a hobby, and was extremely interested in what the process or maintenance of that would entail. We had talked about doing it as a family outing when my parents came to Korea, and the schedule happened to work out that my wife and mother could stay at home, and my father and I could go out and see a Korean stocked fishing lake in the countryside.
We got up early and headed to the Yuseong station terminal, headed for Gongju. From Gongju we took a local bus to go to 공주자연농원, which was twenty minutes into the deep countryside in the middle of nowhere. We got some help by asking people at the local bus stop where we could take the right bus, and I kept my phone running Google Maps to find out when we needed to get off the bus since it lacked a list of stops. We got out at a local middle school that acted as a landmark. We couldn’t see out the windows because it was totally fogged up, but we did get out at the right place, luckily.
The stocked lake had a series of cabins you could rent near a lake which was frozen over, but that’s not what we were doing. We were going to fish indoors in a stocked artificial unit. My dad and I assumed that there would be drinks, a hazy, smoky atmosphere where lots of guys were sitting around watching television, and the occasional boisterous cheer that went up when they caught a fish.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
The gigantic framed greenhouse like structure was lined with extremely dark material that kept out all the light and must have served as some minor insulation. The windows were totally covered, and there was minimal emergency lighting over the doors but almost no visible light except a series of LED lights at either end of the long pool the held the fish that provided enough light to see the florescent bobbers floating motionless on a perfectly still pool. There were about six guys spread out along the entire length of the pool. The place was large enough to hold eighty people, and the lakes outside could have had thousands. It was totally deserted.
The pool was split in two down the middle by a large blue tarp to keep people on “their half”. The entire structure was so dark that people had LED hiking lights on their heads when they needed to see something. There were absolutely no sounds of comradery, or quick snaps of fishing lines being reeled in. Everyone was sitting, staring at a fishing bobber glowing in darkness in complete silence. It was like fishing in a dark, closed library.
We went to get our equipment, and the man in charge of testing my rod and floater messed up and cast it too far. He hit the tarp and needed to take a boat out to remove the line. Then it took him thirty minutes to get the thing to float properly. The entire time he was casting, watching it sink, then casting it again. Ridiculous. There was simply a long pole, a line, and two hooks with cat food as bait. The bait was so soft you’d lose it if you didn’t cast perfectly, which we were taught how to do in the dark.
The water was so cold, and the fish were so inactive there was almost no motion in the water at all. Occasionally a fish would float up to the top of the water and someone would come along with a net and push it back down or nudge it to get it to move. No fair hooking one of those! We thought we’d be able to get a bite, get some recognition, then go, but even a single fish looked to be an amazing accomplishment. We saw one or two gentlemen catch something, but had no luck ourselves. The men who caught the fish showed no enjoyment, simply pulling the fish out, removing any prize tags, and dropping them back in the water.
The fish were in such an extreme torpor they didn’t move. When were were close to leaving, we spotted a fish surface at our feet. We were bored, and my dad took a pinch of bait, and with amazing accuracy hit the fish squarely on the face. The bait actually landed on the upper lip of the fish, sat there, and sank. The fish didn’t move at all. I can’t remember laughing that hard in ages. The fish literally didn’t take an interest in food sitting on it’s lip, what chance were we that there was a fish that was going to take a bite in the total darkness of our bait? We packed up our bag shortly after that and left.
It was one of the weirdest experiences I can remember having in Korea in a very long time. I see absolutely no point in fishing normally, and they’ve managed to eliminate the benefits of being outside, having fun, and drinking to excess while you do it. All that was left was the boredom. Why anyone would go fishing during the winter at a stocked lake is utterly beyond me.
The guy at the fish stocking place was nice enough to find out when they thought the next local bus would be through the town, and we went out early to the local bus stop to catch it. We stood out at the bus stop for twenty minutes in the cold, watching express buses going by, and contemplated catching a taxi, which ended up passing us with a bewildered “Foreigners? Here?” face as he drove by. Same with the children that walked out of the school. I don’t think foreigners in the middle of winter are very common in the middle of the countryside.
We made it back to town after eating a nice meal in Gongju. At least we had a story to tell, and I got to spend some quality time with my father even if it involved fishing, and not the fish. It was not worth visiting, or paying for, but it was a unique experience for sure.