Editor’s note: Last weekend, the Bear Lake community hosted its annual Winterfest, which includes two popular sister events, the Polar Plunge and Cisco Disco. Former Garden City mayor and self-described local “character” Bryce Nielson recounts the origins of the Cisco Disco in this first-person essay that appeared in last week’s edition of the Rich County Civic Times.
Bear Lake’s annual cisco fish fry started small in the mid-1980s.
A good friend, Don Archer, and I would get together to catch a limit of cisco each year. Since it was cold, Don would bring a Coleman stove to make a pot of coffee. People would stop by for a cup and wonder what we were going to do with the cisco. When we said, “eat them,” many folks wondered what they tasted like, so we shared.
Don started bringing a frying pan, flour and oil. When you cook cisco, eat them fresh. Usually fishermen are so sick of cisco after cleaning a hundred, they put them in the freezer and forget about them. A couple of months later they thaw and cook the cisco and wonder why they taste so fishy. After tasting them fresh on the tailgate of Don’s truck, they would change their minds.
As the years passed, the cooking of Bonneville Cisco, fresh, grew. It really took off when Ralph Blotter and Andy Bolos became involved. As an organizer by nature, Ralph decided to take it to the next level and cook his “world famous” scones and have Andy provide the fresh-cut fries from his restaurant in Ogden. He planned to feed everyone on the beach. The crowds exploded, and there was always a big fire and lots of antifreeze and socialization.
My dear friend Doug Miller of Utah Outdoors showed up one year when it was well below zero. He noticed everyone standing around the fire in the normal duck-coverall dress jumping up and down, hands in their pockets, trying to stay warm. The only one sitting in a chair was Heber Stock, of original pioneer heritage, of Fish Haven. He was our oldest participant and was there every year until he passed away at 85.
Heber could remember gill-netting cisco under the ice as a boy, filling buckets with fish on a sleigh pulled by a pony. Doug wanted a parting photo with all the crazy fishermen, including Heber, so we all stood in a line dancing back and forth trying to keep warm, at which point Doug dubbed the movement the “Cisco Disco.” It has been a tradition ever since.
People come and go, and for the last several years Scott Tolentino, with lots of friends, has continued to host the Cisco Disco. It was great to see kids and adults coming out in the cold, eating freshly caught cisco with tarter sauce, hot fries and scones slathered in honey butter. It was always free, with a tip jar to help buy supplies.
As the years passed, the volunteers grew and the word spread. Soon, members of the local LDS wards started to come in increased numbers. Then Jessica Ward, a local gal, organized a polar plunge at the Bear Lake State Park Marina to raise money for charity. That event also grew, and it was natural for the two activities to combine forces.
Both outings started to have hundreds of participants, so the Bear Lake Rendezvous Chamber of Commerce got on board and publicized the “Cisco Disco,” which brought more visitors to Bear Lake during January.
Utah Parks and Recreation facilities were filled around the third Saturday in January, so they became more involved and didn’t charge park entrance fees. It continues to grow, and there are many other things going on during that time.
Now it is Winterfest and the Polar Plunge with the Cisco Disco.