Lake Shumarinai lies in the heart of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, inside Shumarinai Prefectural Natural Park. The park was established in 1974 and the area holds the record of being one of the coldest in Japan.
Created in 1943, the lake is the largest artificial lake in Japan and is therefore considered quite special. The lake even has an asteroid named after it, 16525 Shumarinaiko and is also home to the remarkable Sakhalin taimen fish. Thought to be over 40 thousand years old, this fish is now a protected species with a program to help increase stock numbers in place over the last few years. The Sakhalin taimen fish can be fished at the lake under certain conditions and restrictions naturally apply. For details, you'll need to contact the Shumarinai Fresh Water Fisheries Association (ph: 0165 38 2470) .
Other fish that anglers can enjoy reeling in are cherry salmon, white-spotted char and Japanese smelt, from the beginning of May until end of December when stocks are high.
In the winter months Lake Shumarinai is completely frozen over with a layer of ice more than a metre thick. The first thing you think about as you stand at the frozen lake side is the sheer size of it all. At 2,373 hectares, the lake is 30 times the size of Tokyo Disneyland. Looking out over the sheer white landscape you will see hundreds of little colourful tents dotted across the ice as far as you can see. These tents are set up especially for ice fishing.
New to ice-fishing or even fishing in general? Don’t worry as the staff will help you and equip you with all you need for a fun day on the icy lake. Fishing licenses, rod and bait rental can all be collected at the Fresh Water Fisheries Building on weekdays or the Mini Log House on the weekends. Both are open from 6am.
For the more experienced ice-fishing anglers, there is the chance to be taken further out to the deeper parts of the lake by snowmobile to try and catch the more desirable and larger trout fish. Beginners such as myself, however, are encouraged to catch Japanese smelt. The rental package includes the Ice Smelt fishing set of rod, trap, bait, stool, and ice fishing net.
Once you have rod in hand it’s down onto the ice where a guide will lead you to one of the many bell tents. The tents host 10 small bore holes which are placed in a circle, creating a very social environment. Everyone sits facing into the circle and so are able to enjoy talking with fellow anglers.
It’s surprising how hot it becomes inside the tent and it can be tricky to stay on the little plastic stool as it easily slides away if you sit down to quickly. After a few minutes of fishing, a member of our party felt a little tug on the rod. Once reeled in there where two small smelt fish on the end of the line. That was the beginning of a fruitful day of fishing with four of us catching a combined total of 43 fish in one hour.
It might be cold and a little bit numbing on your extremities but certainly worth the visit. Sitting in the tent doing the ice-fishing can become a social activity as you talk away with your fellow anglers and share a drink together and there is also a little rush when you reel in the line to see what you have caught, like being a child again on Christmas day.