LAKE ANDES— Growing up, siblings Rocky Bergin and Rachel (Bergin) Kazcor shared a fish story unlike any other.
Teenagers at the time, they claimed the title of Lake Andes Fish Days royalty the same year and the “privilege” that went with it.
“Rocky was Mr. Carp and I was Ms. Bullhead,” Kazcor said this week. “It was a really big deal, and each of us got to kiss the fish (as the top prize) at the street dance. A lot of people came out to see it and cheer us on.”
The fish kissing and a number of other events return this weekend as Lake Andes holds its 86th annual Fish Days. This year’s Fish Days leadership represents the continued family connection as sisters-in-law Kazcor and Megan Bergin (Rocky’s wife) chair the event.
However, the two women quickly pointed to the full community involvement and volunteers needed to welcome both residents and visitors.
The Friday-Sunday schedule includes a parade, fish dinner, Dueling Duo pianos performance, carnival midway, bull-a-rama, street dance and crowning of the Fish Days Queen and Lil’ Miss Fishy, among other events.
Lake Andes Fish Days began in 1915 and, with the exception of 1957-58, was celebrated annually until 1969. In 1988, it was revived and has been celebrated as a three-day event during the first full weekend in June.
However, the 2020 celebration was canceled due to COVID-19. The return of the festivities after a one-year absence has made this weekend even more special.
“It’s rare to have Fish Days canceled, so we wanted to get the show back on the road,” Megan Bergin said.
Kazcor has sensed local residents’ eagerness for Fish Days’ return and for resuming life as normal. “You hear a lot of excitement among people to get back out there after not having these events last year,” she said.
Two people — parade marshals Ed and Betty Bruner — are particularly eager for this year’s celebration, Kazcor said. The couple has been married 72½ years, according to the Fish Days committee. The Bruners are lifelong Charles Mix County residents, originally from the Geddes area, and have lived in Lake Andes for the past 52 years. The have four children (one deceased), 13 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
“Ed and Betty are both in their 90s and very excited (about serving as marshals),” Kazcor said.
This year’s Fish Days kicks off Friday with the crowning of the Queen and Lil’ Miss Fishy at the Andes Central school gymnasium. The queen receives a crown and $250 scholarship. This year’s candidates are Aubrey Gray, Emery Bultje, Emma Hofer-Stotz, Hailey Fischer, Joselyn Abdo, Kea’Ona Doren and Lori Decora. Also, 26 contestants will compete for the Lil Miss Fishy crown.
At 9 p.m., the Dueling Duo will entertain at the Andes Central gymnasium. The popular traveling act features piano players Andy Gibson and Ryno taking audience requests. VIP tickets can be reserved for designated tables with a maximum of eight persons, and general admission tickets are also available at the door.
Saturday’s daytime schedule includes a men’s softball tournament, parade, kids’ games, fish dinner, bean bag tournament, kids pedal pull, motorcycle and car show, and rib and brisket cook-off.
The parade features the theme “Disney” with line-up starting at 10 a.m. at Ninth Ave. and High St. Pre-registration is offered, but entries are welcome that day. The parade begins at 11 a.m. and runs down Main Street.
A fish dinner runs from noon-2 p.m. at the Lake Andes Fire Hall, with a free-will donation taken for the meal.
The ABATE motorcycle and car show runs from noon-3 p.m. west of the Duck Inn (VFW). The rib and brisket cook-off starts at 3 p.m. in the City Park.
The evening schedule features the McKay’s bull-a-rama, a street dance with the crowning of Mr. Carp and Ms. Bullhead, and a pong tournament.
The 7 p.m. bull-a-rama, held south of the veterinarian clinic, draws competitors winning points on a traveling circuit, Kazcor said. The kids’ steer riding, normally held during intermission, has been canceled this year because of the insufficient numbers of appropriate steers.
A familiar face will perform at this year’s street dance, set for 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Lake Andes Fire Hall, Kazcor said. “The band is Tal Farnham with the Rat Pac, and Tal used to teach here in Lake Andes,” she noted.
Mr. Carp and Ms. Bullhead will be announced during a break at the dance. The contest provides friendly competition and a fundraiser for Fish Days. The candidates place buckets around the community and also work the Fish Days parade and other events to raise money for the annual celebration.
This year’s Mr. Carp candidates include Dan Hjelm, Seth Stluka and Daaron Tronvold (whose father was crowned Mr. Carp in 1998). The Ms. Bullhead candidates are Jewel Brewer, Amber Patterson and Avery Schacht.
The candidates raising the most money win the respective titles and the honor of kissing the fish.
What’s the advice for fulfilling that duty? “Just pucker up and close your eyes!” Kazcor advised, speaking from experience.
The length of the smooch has traditionally been linked to the amount of money raised by the winning candidate, she noted.
“If you raised $1,300, the idea was that you would kiss the fish for 13 seconds,” she added. “A lot of people come to the dance to see it and cheer on Mr. Carp and Ms. Bullhead.”
Sunday’s schedule includes a men’s softball tournament, youth group breakfast at St. Mark’s parish hall, ABATE motorcycle blessing, kids’ demolition derby, bingo, kids’ water fight and “One Book South Dakota” discussion.
This year’s celebration again features the D.C. Lynch carnival midway. Advance tickets are available from participating outlets, but tickets can also be purchased on the midway.
The return of Fish Days represents the return of a tradition, Kazcor said.
“This is life; this is small town living,” she said. “This is something we look forward to (seeing) every year.”
For more information, visit online at the Lake Andes Fish Days website or Facebook page.
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