The Korean Demilitarized Zone seperating North and South Korea holds an unlikely secret: trout. It is between the barbed wire and mine-strewn creek beds of the 2.5-mile wide swath of no man’s land that one can find the densest population of Manchurian Trout, which grow up to 25 inches, and can be fished just downstream of the DMZ. Flyfishing Korea’s mountain streams on the 38th parallel–an adventurous and sometimes rewarding endeavor for the daring angler.The sun is rising over South Korea’s Seorak National Park. Gnarled pines cling to granite outcroppings in a shroud of ghostly fog. The perennial Siberian winds that howl through these canyons mangle spindly trees into contorted bonsai silhouettes. Sunrise at Seorak resembles an Asian landscape painting and at the bottom of this picture, a tumbling freestone creek rushes through a steep ravine, and I’m aching to get down there and fish. But not this morning. I’m driving farther north to the precarious borderlands separating the two Koreas to try my luck at Korea’s largest salmonid, the Manchurian trout.
During the Korean War, bombs from American B-29 Superfortresses rattled communist forces from the rugged Baekdudaegan mountain range. Engineers blasted tunnels through their cores in the ’70s and ’80s to build a national highway system. Today, many of the cascading creeks that once raced through these valleys are dammed, widened, or sucked bone dry to irrigate farmland. Ironically, two species of trout, the Manchurian trout (Brachymystax lenok) and cherry trout (Onchorynchus masao) survived both war and rapid infrastructure projects that left miles of stream devoid of fish. In a land where fishing licenses simply don’t exist, poaching is rampant, and a regional favorite is sliced-trout sashimi. It’s an uphill battle for an expatriate flyfishing guide.
The densest populations of Korean Manchurian trout, or lenok, don’t live in South or North Korea but between the two nations. Both Koreas have remained technically at war since signing an armistice in 1953, and inside the 2.5-mile strip of no man’s land called the Demilitarized Zone—the most heavily mined and guarded border on the planet—these politically confused trout reportedly grow more than 25 inches inside their barbed-wire sanctuary…
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