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Those who have tasted the "Silver Smelt"

The 16th Ice Fishing Festival "Silver Smelt", which takes place in Sovetskaya Gavan of the Khabarovsk Territory, made fishermen sweat too - the smelt went to the fairway pierced by the icebreaker, and the organizers - a competing festival appeared in neighboring Vanino.

A thousand people on ice can't be wrong! The traditional ice fishing festival "Silver Smelt" in 2021 turned out to be unprecedentedly massive - only 17 teams arrived. And this without foreign guests - the pandemic still keeps the borders locked. However, this did not affect the intensity of passions on the ice. The Silver Smelt Festival has been held on the ice of the Okocha Bay (Sovetskaya Gavan Bay, Tatar Strait, the northern part of the Sea of ​​Japan) since 2005. Its permanent leader and ideological inspirer, Alexander Lukyanchuk, the main director of the local House of Culture, invented it as a small-town holiday, but now "Silver Smelt" is a finalist of the national Russian Event Awards and received international status.

Those who have tasted the "Silver Smelt"
Photo: Alexey Elash

“The destination is 565 kilometers, the travel time is 9 hours and 26 minutes,” the girl from the navigator told us in a cheerful voice.
The navigator did not know about the blizzard, which we had yet to get into, and the promised 9 hours of travel became a very optimistic forecast. In our company there are two families with children in two cars from Khabarovsk. On the coast of the Tatar Strait, there were only two of us - me and Seryoga. For the rest, this road to the sea is a complete unknown. However, the 11-year-old daughter questioned the sea in which you cannot swim. Say, this is not the sea in the full sense of the word.

So, let's go to the "Silver Smelt" 
- a festival with history, which is being held for the 16th time. Over the years, whoever has gone out on the ice of the Okocha Bay: guests from Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, China. There were even Kazakhs with Uzbeks! However, immigrants from the countries of the Middle East in the Far East every year more and more actively occupy a purely Far Eastern niche - fish. In the "nizovka" (as in the Khabarovsk Territory they call the regions of the lower Amur - Ulchsky and Nikolaevsky) during the fishing season (the course of the summer or autumn chum salmon), "refki" (Japanese refrigerated vans) come together, driven by Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tajiks. They buy up freshly caught salmon and caviar, bring it all to Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Khabarovsk, and there they sell it all at spontaneous markets, sometimes hardly pronouncing the name of the fish.

But back to the smelt.

Last year, due to the outbreak of the pandemic, it was necessary to do without guests not only from abroad, but even from other Russian regions. The most "outlandish" were the "Khabarovsk crucians". This year, four teams arrived from the regional capital at once.

“It's a surprise this year (and we call it a surprise that didn't happen before) that four teams came from Khabarovsk, and two of them are purely female. As far as I know, they are aimed exclusively at fishing, and women's teams will still take part in ice football for the Silver Smelt Cup, ”said Alexander Lukyanchuk, the permanent organizer and ideological inspirer of the festival.
Alexander Lukyanchuk 

We are going to get acquainted with the team "Vupsen-Pupsen". Bah! All familiar faces: the artist Alexandra Zrazhaeva. We ask, how did you decide to change the brushes for a fishing rod? 

Alexandra Zrazhaeva

“Last year our friends came and won the TV. We thought: why not us? Today we came for refrigeration equipment, four teams (the freezer is the main prize of the festival this year). Khabarovsk fishermen prepared us. We said where we were going, they went, bought some tackle, brought it in and said: you’ll catch it with this. And the locals say to me: not that, ”shares with us Alexandra, who is trying to catch a smelt for the first time in her life. It doesn't work out very well, so for bait, Sasha pours mulled wine from his glass into the hole.

Khabarovsk residents and residents of the coast of the Khabarovsk Territory are two different "civilizations". The former know little about sea fishing, since they are simply far from the sea, and the latter, as a rule, do not consider river fishing as fishing at all (except for mountain fishing, of course). The residents of Vanino and Sovgavans know the taste of smelt since childhood. And of course, they know how to catch it.

Near the neighboring holes, we notice a crowd of children in the same sports uniform. Let's get acquainted. This is the Ice Team, which represents the children's hockey team from Sovetskaya Gavan. 

Both in Sovgavan and in the neighboring village of Vanino, hockey is a very popular sport, and the Vanino team, sponsored by Transbunker, even claims to be a professional one.
The "Ice team" as a mentor Nadezhda Martynenko - an experienced fisherman, which is also very typical for coastal towns.

However, these participants are also without a catch. In the last couple of years, both guests and hosts of the tournament have been increasingly left without smelt at Serebryanaya Smelt.
“The less fish we catch, the more of it will remain in the vastness of our bay. The main thing for us is not the fish, but the charge of emotions, success, fresh air, ”Aleksandr Lukyanchuk tries to laugh it off.

However, there is another, more scientific explanation for this: the smelt loves oxygen and tries to be closer to the open sea. The icebreaker Novorossiysk entered Sovetskaya Gavan the day before.

Last season, it was transferred to the Far East for icebreaker assistance for ships in the freezing ports of Vanino and Sovetskaya Gavan. "Novorossiysk" broke the ice, and all the fish rushed to the fairway. Now, on both sides of the lane, dozens of fishermen sit in the hope of a rich catch.

Many of them went to the ice in cars, but this is already dangerous: on February 24, for example, in the Tatar Strait, 80 kilometers from the coast, an earthquake occurred, and a meter wave went to the shore, breaking the ice in the bay: there is a video on the network, as fishermen in terror run to the shore, abandoning their cars.

However, the wave did not reach the Okocha Bay and the meter-long ice retained its strength here. True, there are few fish here. When the organizers realized that there might not be any smelt on the "Silver Smelt", the number of nominations for the participants increased: here you will find "The very first fish caught" along with "The latest", and "The smallest" with "The biggest", “The largest catch by the amount caught” and “The most diverse catch”. It is separately taken into account who caught the smelt most of all. This year there were already two of them, the Mayak team, representing the military unit of the hydrographic service of the Pacific Fleet, distinguished themselves. They also won in the category “Species diversity”: not only smelt, but also loach and eelpout were caught on their hooks. 

Each team has two people. Some are fishing friends, some are neighbors, some are from the enterprise: there are still a few of them on the coast, although, of course, they are not left of their former greatness. 

But once BATMs (a large autonomous freezer trawler) were based in Sovetskaya Gavan. In fact, these are such large floating factories that went to sea for several months and, without calling the port, produced ready-made products in beautiful packaging: squid, crab, scallop, fish.

On land (or rather, on ice, but away from the holes), other competitions are held at this time. One of my favorites is the Miss Silver Smelt contest. It is immediately clear that the participants are preparing for it thoroughly: costumes, musical accompaniment, mini performances.

A culinary competition takes place right there. “It has already become a tradition to prepare in advance. This also applies to the competition of fish dishes - you will see what culinary masterpieces there are that are a pity to cut, these are works of art, not only culinary, but also of small architectural forms. Of course, such dynamic and intense contests as high-speed ice drilling, football on ice, ”says Alexander Lukyanchenko.

Photographer-blogger Alexander Kolbin from Khabarovsk (the same one that did the "Narechie" exhibition in Khabarovsk on the Amur ice) decided to try his hand at a drilling speed competition. I learned the technique at night on the Amur a few days before the trip to Sovetskaya Gavan: the photographs then turned out great, but the holes were not very good.

Photo Shoot:

In Okocha Bay the ice is one meter thick and denser than on the Amur, so the training did not help and Alexander's drill remained dry.

But a cool "meme" was born. The fact is that due to bad weather, the movement of passenger buses was suspended and one of the members of the Khabarovsk team "Koresh" Aleksey Zhvalik could not come. Then he was replaced by Alexander Kolbin. The participant's badge did not change, and Kolbin, grabbing the drill, gave out a battle cry: "I am Zhvalik!" By the way, Kolbin didn't catch the fish either. 
“I held an ordinary fishing rod with a hook and a worm in my hands, threw a spoon on mountain rivers, on rafting, but did not hold an ice fishing rod,” said Alexander Kolbin.

The meter ice was drilled the fastest by Alexei Aleinikov from Vanino, it took him only 22 seconds. 

In the first place in terms of drilling speed - Alexey Aleinikov

The results of the "Silver Smelt" sample of 2021, as well as the current fishing in general, are discussed in a public bathhouse, which is on the street with a somewhat strange name "In memory of 15 dead partisans." Rather, they are discussing the local residents - the regulars of the bath. And we just listen, but remember (by the way, a good life hack - if you want to know how the city in which you have arrived really lives - go to a public bath). Conversations in comparison with last year have not changed much: there is less fish, which means that there is less and less work. And this is not at all from the series “before the trees were bigger” - we eat the local draft with fish, though caught in the Far Eastern seas, but processed into products in neighboring China.

To make sure (or vice versa - to refute this theory), the next day we go to the local analogue of "Ocean" (remember such stores throughout the country, where you could buy almost any fish and seafood and which are now unsuccessfully trying to recreate at least in the coastal regions?) ... There is a variety of species on the counter, but prices do not differ from the "river" Khabarovsk: blue-green halibut - 870 r / kg, navaga - 120 r / kg, pollock at 145, flounder at 150, smelt - 475.

In the store we notice a poster "No coal!" Sovetskaya Gavan is worried about plans to build a coal terminal. The experience of neighboring Vanino shows that it will not be possible to get rid of coal dust, despite all the assurances from above. “If there is coal, there will be no smelt,” the saleswoman briefly sums up.

In 2013 and 2019, Serebryanaya Smelt became a finalist of the regional competition of the Russian Event Awards National Prize. And this speaks of the high potential of the event. True, it has not yet been implemented very well. But according to experts, there is everything necessary for this. We talked with Tatyana Yakovenko, director of the travel company Dalgeo Tours from Khabarovsk, who was met on the ice of Okochi. Due to the protracted pandemic, they now have to switch from inbound tourism (Dalgeo Tours has always specialized in foreign tourists coming to the Far East from Asia-Pacific countries) to domestic, so they are looking out for interesting places and events.

“Great festival, well organized. Moreover, it is interesting for both the older and younger generations. Has a good perspective for the development of domestic tourism. It would be nice to organize charter trips from Khabarovsk and other cities of the Far East, ”said Tatyana Yakovenko.
These laurels do not allow neighbors to sleep peacefully - in the Vaninsky district, which is located across the bay, they decided to "pull the blanket over themselves": three years ago they organized the Ice Tumnina competition (Tumnin is a beautiful spawning river that flows into the Tatar Strait). This year, the date was set on the same day as the Silver Smelt, and at the same time they went for a little trick: you can declare your desire to become a participant of Ice Tumnin an hour before the start of the competition, while applications for the Silver Smelt stopped taking on February 27.

Vanino and Sovetskaya Gavan have a long-standing confrontation. It's like a dispute between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. Vanino is called "the sea gate of the Khabarovsk Territory" and it is from here that ferries with trains and cars go to Sakhalin, but at the same time the main "whip carrier" of the Far East - train No. 351/352 goes to Sovetskaya Gavan. It is in Sovetskaya Gavan that a thermal power plant is being built and, in general, Sovetskaya Gavan is a city, and Vanino is a village.

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