The Bonneville cisco are running. Fast. Quicker, said observers, than they have in years.
Fishermen are, in fact, catching limits (30 fish) this week in less time than it takes to dress for the winter weather.Paul Birdsey, fisheries biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said he pulled out a limit "in 10 minutes."
This success has not gone unnoticed. Over the three-day holiday, more than 2,000 fishermen stepped onto the ice along the one-mile stretch of Cisco Beach on the east side of the lake to catch the unusual fish.
According to Birdsey, the peak of the run was expected to hit Wednesday or Thursday, and begin to fall off from there. He expects fishing will remain good over the weekend.
The small, white fish showed up early this year. Fishermen were hooking limits of cisco off the rock pile near Sweetwater Resort at least a week before they showed up along the eastern beach.
Saturday, more than 1,000 anglers were scattered along Cisco Beach. Sunday, between 500 and 600 showed up.
Monday, said Birdsey, "It was hard to tell. They were coming and going all day . . . They'd stop, catch a limit in a few minutes, and then leave. It was that way all day long. I caught my limit around 1 (p.m.). Usually the run is over by 10 (a.m.)."
This is not a typical year for the cisco. This is the first time in five years the lake has been frozen during the run. Also, the low water has reduced the rocky shoreline, which has forced cisco to come in closer to fishermen. And, new fishing techniques have improved catch rates.
The result has been a large turnout of fishermen.
David Johnson of Ogden, said that after a three-year absence he decided to try cisco fishing again "because I heard the lake was frozen and they were catching fish."
Gary Thunell of Logan, said he came up late Saturday and had his limit within a hour and a half. He returned on Sunday for a second try.
Joe Layton, a Layton resident, said he'd heard the cisco were running and that the lake was frozen so he decided to introduce his kids to cisco fishing.
Birdsey admitted that from the beginning he didn't expected this to be a typical cisco run.
The ice cap almost guaranteed fishing would be good. Fishermen in waders have trouble reaching out to where the fish spawn. Ice allows them to get out and over the fish.
This year, too, the fish have been forced in closer to shore because of the low lake level. To reach the rocky beds to spawn, the fish must come within easy reach of the long-handled nets. During past spawns, the water was high enough to leave rocks in deeper water and allow the fish to stay away from the nets.
New techniques have also helped to increase limits. It used to be that fishing with dipnets was a watching and waiting game. Now fishermen have learned that a shiny lure jigged up and down over the net will attract the six-inch fish. Fishermen can then scoop out the fish before they leave the lure.
Many fisherman are also hooking the fish as they come in to investigate the lure, said Bryce Nielson, chief biologist at the lake. They are also coming up with limits of cisco and even an occasional white fish, cutthroat or lake trout.
Before the cisco run started, trout fishing was considered good. Now that the cisco are moving, trout fishing has dropped off.
Whitefish will eat cisco eggs, and the cutthroats and lake trout will be moving into the spawning areas to feed on cisco and whitefish.
Fishing for whitefish and trout is expected to improve within a week or two after the cisco runs ends.
Fishermen are catching the small fish for two reasons: For food, and to use as bait at Bear Lake.
Properly prepared, cisco are considered a very palatable meal. One method - after the fish have been cleaned and the scales scrapped - is to roll them in cornmeal or flour, salt, pepper and garlic, and then deep fry them.
If the fish are to be used as bait for trophy cutthroat and lake trout (Bear Lake is the only lake where dead cisco can be used as bait), Birdsey asks that fishermen cut off the tails, usually the only part of the fish used on a hook, and pass the rest of the fish on to people who will eat rather than waste the fish.
The Bonneville cisco are unique in that they are found no where else in the world but Bear Lake. Several attempts to transplant the fish into other lakes, including Flaming Gorge Reservoir, have failed.