The annual Cisco run at Bear Lake usually gets going in mid-January, according to DWR Bear Lake biologist Bryce Nielson. Water temperature and other factors trigger the unique little fish to spawn along the lake's shores. They come in droves during the first hours of daylight. Fishermen scoop them up in minnow nets.
Success for Cisco is usually good when the lake is frozen. It is much more difficult to take the fish when there is open water or dangerous ice because it is difficult to get out far enough to find good numbers of fish.
Cisco Beach is a popular spot because it is easily accessible and has a gradually sloping bottom. But the fish spawn all around the lake.
Fish start to spawn in early January, and continue through the month. Cut a large hole in the ice out far enough that you can just reach the bottom with a long handled net. Put a lantern next to your hole to warn other fishermen of its presence, and to attract the fish.
When they are spawning the cisco come in waves, sometimes so thick that you can take a 30-fish limit in just one or two net fulls. If you don't see fish, try dangling a daredevil or jig in the hole to attract them. (Many Cisco are taken on small jigs throughout the year.) Remember that your net can't have an opening larger than 18 inches.
Bear Lake has a large population of trophy cutthroat trout, and they become extremely aggressive as the Cisco begin to spawn. They cruise the lake shores gorging on Cisco and eggs. Five to eight pound fish are not uncommon. Most are taken on jigs or spoons. The "Mack Attack" seems to be the jig of choice this year � a marabou jig with a gitzit stretched over it, often tipped with a Cisco tail. Black and chartreuse are popular colors.
Cutthroat fishing is usually very good just before the lake freezes, and excellent through the ice. Success generally slows a bit as the Cisco spawn peaks, just because there is so much food available. As the spawn ends the big Cutts are still active and hungry, and looking for an easy meal. Success is usually best at that time, generally about the first week of February.
Whitefish action also becomes hot as the Cisco spawn ends. Large whitefish readily take castmasters, Swedish nipples, daredevils and other jigs and lures. Nielson says castmasters are probably the most versatile lure you can use at the lake. They readily take all kinds of fish.
The road to Cisco Beach has been paved � the days of mud and stuck vehicles are over. Remember, there is a $3 fee for day use at the state park, and a $5 camping fee.
Cisco are very good eating, but must be properly cared for. Quickly clean them and get them on ice, even when the weather is cold. They are very tasty smoked or batter fried.
Dead Cisco can be used as bait in Bear Lake. Nielson says he is concerned because he has seen people catch a mess of cisco, cut off their tails for bait, then throw the rest of the fish away. "I would like to push for them to cut off the tails for bait, then fry up the rest of the fish."
He also reminded anglers that only cisco are legal for bait � if you use whitefish tails you are asking for trouble.