Game Fishing > Salmon Family, Salmonidae > Cisco


CiscoThe cisco, or so-called "lake-herring," was first described by the French ichthyologist, Le Sueur, in 1818, from Lake Erie and the Niagara River. He named it in honor of Petrus Artedi, the associate of Linnaeus, and the "Father of Ichthyology." The variety sisco was described and named by Dr. David Starr Jordan, in 1875, from Lake Tippecanoe, Indiana. It was for a long time supposed to exist only in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, except in the Great Lakes, and an absurd opinion was prevalent that there was an underground communication between that lake and Lake Superior by which the cisco entered it.

I found it in several lakes in Wisconsin, as La Belle, Oconomowoc, and Okauchee. The cisco is somewhat smaller than the lake­herring, but otherwise it is about the same. It is almost elliptical in outline, the body being compressed. The mouth is rather large, with the jaws more projecting than in the lake white­fishes.

The coloration is bluish or greenish on the back, with silvery sides and white belly. The scales are sprinkled with black specks. It is a very pretty fish, is gregarious, swimming in large schools, and feeds on the minute organisms found in lakes of good depth. It remains in deep water most of the year, but resorts to shallower water in the summer, preparatory to spawning. From the last of May to June, when the May-fly appears in vast swarms on the western lakes, the cisco approaches the surface to feed on them. It is at this time that they take an artificial fly of a grayish hue. It grows to a length of ten or twelve inches, and is highly esteemed as a food­fish.

At Lake Geneva, when the May-fly appears, crowds of anglers assemble to cast the artificial fly and the natural " cisco-fly," as the May-fly is called. A very light trout fly-rod with corresponding tackle can be utilized for cisco, with gray hackle, gray drake, or green drake, on hooks numbers 8 to 10. The fishing is done from boats or the shore. In using the natural fly the same sized hooks mentioned will answer. As the May­fly alights on every object, the boat and clothing of the angler as well, the supply of bait is constant and convenient.

The cisco can be caught in winter, through the ice, in water from fifty to seventy-five feet deep, and many are taken in this way from the lakes near Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. A small white or bright object is used as a decoy to attract the fish, which is kept in motion near the baited hook, and on a separate line. The bait may be a very small bit of white bacon or ham fat, or fish flesh, though insect larva is better.

When the talismanic words, "The cisco is running," are pronounced, crowds of anglers from Chicago, Milwaukee, and all intermediate points, with a unanimity of purpose, rush as one man to the common centre of Lake Geneva, in eager anticipation of the brief but happy season of " ciscoing." Anglers of every degree armed with implements of every description, from the artistic split-bamboo rod of four ounces to the plebeian cane pole or bucolic sapling of slender proportions, and with lines of enamelled silk, linen, or wrapping cord - vie with one another in good­natured rivalry in the capture of the silvery cisco. Very little skill is required to fill the creel, as the schools are on the surface of the water in myriads, and the most bungling cast may hook a fish.

Though the etymology of the cisco is unknown, it is a veritable entity, whose name is legion during the month of June at Lake Geneva. The cisco is a localized variety of the so-called lake-herring of the Great Lakes, and holds the same relation to it that the landlocked salmon does to the Atlantic salmon. Being confined to small lakes, the cisco does not grow so large as the lake herring.