Fisherman’s tale from Jeju Island ends with smilesWhen visiting the sea a man should never miss an opportunity to go fishing,” said a stocky man among a group of 10 tourists from Busan.
His tone made it apparent that boyish excitement was building among his friends, who were in their 40s and early 50s. They stood a few feet apart on a dock that was packed with fishing boats swaying rhythmically on the tide. Each man looked out to sea with hungry eyes. They had come to Jeju Island to play golf. Now their hands longed to feel the whiplash of a rod as its hook and line took the weight of a fish.
Jeju, an island in the southern sea below the Korean peninsula, is famous for its abundant seafood. Many people travel here solely to fish from small boats. The experience is elemental - the captain usually slices up the visitors’ catch right on the deck and serves it as raw sashimi. This is the part that most tourists crave, including the men from Busan. “You can never beat raw sashimi that is fresh out of the water,” said Park Man-hyeon, one of the ten.
Boat fishing from Jeju is not part of an organized tourist package. There are no fixed schedules, no set prices. Tour guides will be happy to lead anglers in their group to shops that offer boat fishing. For those travelling alone, find a sign that reads, “Bada Nakshi,” which literally means sea fishing; they are plentiful near the docks and beaches. The same signs are found in restaurants and small stores along the beach.
According to Kim Ji-hyeon, the captain and owner of Iho Teolbo Nakshi a trip will cost between 70,000 ($74) and 150,000 won per boat, depending on the size of the vessel. The trip usually lasts for an hour to an hour and a half. The boats operate from daybreak until the sunset. Captain Kim added that even at night some boats take tourists out to fish for squid. The boats have a huge round light that attracts squid in the dark.
A single fishing boat can host as many as 11 passengers but Mr. Kim said he usually only takes six because the fishermen need space to work.
There are two different kinds of boat fishing on Jeju. One is called Yeon nakshi, a technique that uses a strong but thin line rolled up on a device that looks like a kite controller.
The other is called “throwing.” With yeon nakshi the boat stands still in the water. Those fishing then hook on the bait, which is usually worms. The lines are then dipped into the water. “A lot of small local fish are caught by yeon nakshi, but the only problem is this is not a good type of fishing for those who get seasick,” said Park Mak-rae, the wife of Captain Kim. “The boat bobs around too much when it is stationary.”
Throwing is where three thick long lines are tossed into the sea with baits attached. While yeon nakshi uses live worms the bait used in throwing is fake plastic fish and small glow-in-the-dark rubber squid. Instead of standing still the boat rushes through the waves, which makes the trailing bait looks as if it is alive.
Ms. Park said this type of fishing is better for those who easily get seasick. Bigger fish such as tuna are caught this way.
With everything packed including the soju, which is an essential accompaniment when eating raw sashimi, the men from Busan split into two groups and boarded their boats. One was going throwing while the other decided on yeon nakshi. Captain Kim navigated the throwing boat. As he backed out of the dock, he told the tourists to get to the rear of the boat where the fishing lines were laid out. The captain ordered the men to toss the lines into the water one by one.
For most of the men this was their first time fishing in this fashion and they struggled with the lines. “You’re supposed to throw them one at a time,” the captain shouted while steering the boat. The baits submerged quickly as the boat accelerated. In the sharp sea air, all the one-day fishermen had smiles on their faces. Only three were allowed to control the fishing lines. The other two sat back and waited to take a turn.
“We only need one fisherman,” said Choi Ik-pyo, one of the tourists who was confident that he could take on an ocean full of fish without help. “No, that will hurt your back,” said Park Man-hyeon. “When that fish takes the bait and you have to fight it, your back will feel as if it will break in two.” The others laughed, hoping any minute the magic moment would come when the line snapped tight to signal a fish had taken the bait. They looked at the trail of waves and the lighter plastic bait on each side of the boat. They waited and waited and time ticked away.
Ten minutes later the boat was crashing through strong, high waves and the men were getting wet and impatient. The only thing they had caught was seaweed. After 20 minutes their excitement had turned to frustration. “We should be catching some by now,” said tourist Park Il-shik.
The captain seemed to hear this criticism, for he was soon busy trying to find a spot with a lot of seagulls, which usually means an abundance of fish below the water. “Is the boat going too fast?” asked Park Il-shik. Suddenly some seagulls swirled around the boat and the men’s excitement returned immediately. “There must be some fish around,” said Choi Ik-pyo. They watched the lines liked hawks, hoping to capture the exact moment when a fish was caught. But nothing happened, and the seagulls just trailed the boat, shrieking as if they were laughing. “Hey, it looks like the birds think the bait is a fish,” said Park Il-shik. The men had a good chuckle about how they had been fooled, just like the seagulls.
The sun was setting now, bathing the sky in soft orange light. It was romantic, but the men had come for fish, not love. Out of curiosity, Park Il-shik called the other team on his mobile and asked how many they had caught. “ What? Thirty?” he yelled. Mr. Park hid his disappointment at being comprehensively beaten and responded with a typical fisherman’s tale. “We caught huge monsters,” he said. “They are as big as my arms outstretched.”
Choi Ik-pyo was not ready to admit defeat. Hoping fish might be attracted to the bait if it looked more alive, he kept pulling on the middle line. The others decided to just enjoy the boat ride and the beautiful view. After an hour a call came from the other team to say that they were heading back to port. The captain looked disappointed and asked the men if they wanted to go back or continue.
The men seemed content now, tired by the sea air and the buffeting from the waves. They said it was fine to head back.
“It’s a little disappointing that we didn’t catch anything, but at least we had a fun boat ride on the open sea,” said Park Man-hyeon.
On land Ms. Park, the wife of the captain, said earlier in the week a lot of fish had been caught. However in the last three days a school of dolphins had been seen. “Some even swam next to the boat!” she said. For a tourist dolphins may be a beautiful sight but for fishermen they are a bad omen. “Tourists think dolphins are cute,” the captain said. “But to us they are a menace. They eat everything and chase away all the fish, Maybe better luck next time!” And that, as it turns out, applied to the other boat as well. Their claim to have caught 30 fish was just another fisherman’s tale. They had caught nothing as well.
by Lee Ho-jeong
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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