Ice Fishing in Hokkaido

Fishing on the Barato River

Located just half an hour from Sapporo on the border between Sapporo city and Ishikari city, the Barato River is a picturesque escape from the bustle of Sapporo. The river, which is a recreation spot during the warmer months, is partially frozen during winter and is a popular location for ice fishing. On weekends, the white expanse of the river is often dotted with colorful tents as locals and tourists alike fish for wakasagi, or Japanese smelt. I had the opportunity to participate in a half day Barato River Ice Fishing tour. We set off from Sapporo station at 9 a.m. and our friendly guide, who had been fishing every day this season, shared with us her personal tips. She ensured us that there are plenty of fish to catch – on a good day you can expect to catch twenty fish each!

Ice Fishing Tour Guide

We arrived just half an hour later. The river is surrounded by a quiet residential area, and heavy snowfall the day before had created a winter wonderland. We entered an antique restaurant to change into snow gear before walking down the snowy banks onto the river itself. We then met our expert instructors, who gave a demonstration on how to fish. The most difficult part was attaching the bait to the fishing rod – the bait is very small and needs to be cut even smaller to make it appealing to the wakasagi fish, which are about 10cm long. After the demonstration, it was time to enter the tent and begin fishing! The tents had been prepared earlier so that we could begin fishing right away. Each tent fits six people – making it a good opportunity to make friends as you share the fishing experience. We found that it was indeed a bit of a challenge to place the bait, but before long we were all fishing. One woman in our tent caught a fish almost instantly, and the rest of us soon had success as well. The guides visited each tent regularly to offer tips and make sure that everyone was catching fish.

Frying our Fish Into Tempura

After about an hour and a half of fishing, the fish were collected to be fried on the spot into tempura. I ended up catching four fish, which was the average for the day. (The group the day before caught a much larger amount, so it depends on the conditions on the day). Once the tempura was ready, we exited the tent and started eating. The bite size tempura was delicious – fresh, warm and crunchy. It was perfect to warm us up on the cold river. We then returned to the restaurant for a traditional style lunch of baked salmon, rice and miso soup. After a leisurely lunch, we started heading back to Sapporo at around 1 p.m. The trip back is about thirty minutes, and the bus makes a brief stop at the Chateraise Gateaux Kingdom Resort located nearby, so you have the option of spending the rest of the day relaxing in an onsen. Ice Fishing on the Barato River is an amazing way to spend a morning, and a great option if you want to experience winter in Hokkaido.