Ask any steelhead fisherman how
they cure eggs and just about all of them will tell you something
different, or perhaps they won't tell you anything at all. In a
nutshell, egg curing recipes are like heartbeats...everyone's got
one. The main thing to consider is that the quality of the eggs
you put into the cure is going to make a huge difference how well
the bait turns out when the curing process is finished. For optimum
effectiveness, eggs must be harvested from fairly mature fish. As
the female salmonid approaches spawning, the maturation process
places oil (fats) from her flesh into her eggs. It is this salmon
oil that is the main scent component of effective bait eggs. Obviously,
the skeins must still be firm and not too close to actual spawning.
Can you catch fish on immature eggs? Absolutely! There is less oil
in immature or "green" fish as evidenced by the smaller size of
the skeins, but they still can catch fish. However, in our opinion,
eggs harvested from maturing, autumn salmon are more effective and
can be cured and preserved more efficiently.
Here are some things to consider
before you cure eggs:
Bleed your fish! Getting
as much blood out of the eggs as possible starts the second the
fish is brought aboard. One quick slice through the gill arches
is all it takes to provide excellent tasting fish and better bait!
Also, I like to use disposable latex or nitrile gloves while removing
the eggs to prevent any human scent transfer (Figure 1). If there
are any veins of blood left in the eggs gently slice them with scissors
or a knife and milk the blood out with a spoon or the back of the
knife, being careful not to press too hard. Once the blood is out
of the vein wipe the eggs clean and do not use water to rinse them
off. Fresh water is quickly taken into the egg across the membrane
bringing unwanted blood and impurities with it. In fact, during
actual spawning, this phenomenon of the egg absorbing water allows
sperm from the male to easily cross into the egg, greatly facilitating
Keep the fish cool throughout
the day by keeping them in a cold fish box or on ice. Some rivers,
such as the Snake or Columbia, can be quite warm. If the river water
isn't cool enough, keep the fish on ice to preserve the quality
of your catch and the eggs. When cleaning your fish use a very shallow
cut along the belly to open the cavity, so that the knife doesn't
penetrate the eggs. Gently pull on each end of the skein to remove
it from the cavity and be extra careful to not get the skeins dirty
(Figure 2). Have some clean paper towels spread out ready to lay
the eggs on (Figure 3). Remember; DO NOT RINSE them in the
water to clean them off. Once they hit the water the egg membrane
tightens and is less apt to accept the egg cure.
Cure the eggs within three
days of catching the fish and freeze uncured skeins only if you
absolutely have to. Roll the skeins up in paper towels to absorb
excess bacteria- harboring liquid and place these "egg burrito's"
in Ziploc bags or Tupperware Make sure they stay cool or in the
refrigerator during this time. The reason for curing the eggs as
soon as possible is that the egg membrane will start to break down
over time resulting in mushy or soft bait.
Split the length of the skein
down the center to open them up so that the cure can get to the
eggs in the middle of the skein (Figure 4). Some anglers will quarter
the skeins or cut them into smaller pieces before curing. I like
to keep the outer membrane intact, however, so that I can cut them
to size just before going fishing.
Now the eggs are ready for the curing
process. There are plenty of excellent commercially produced egg
cures on the market, all of which do a great job and come with instructions.
Don't be afraid to try some of these cures, as some of them sell
like hot cakes for a reason!
Let's go through the "dry cure"
process start to finish.
-Cut the clean, blood-free skeins
into smaller chunks, retaining the tough outer membrane on each
section. Coho skeins: approximately 6-8 chunks, Chinook skeins approximately
-Place the chunks in a clean plastic
bucket (Non metallic) and sprinkle the Fire Cure over the eggs,
gently mixing with your gloved hands. Sprinkle & mix again to ensure
coverage (Figure 5).
-Add salt slowly until you observe
a "bubbly" moist curtain over the top of the mixture (Figure 6).
-Mix again; adding a bit more salt
and leave in a cool, dark & dry place overnight.
-Every 6-8 hours, gently mix with
gloved hands. Halfway through this process the eggs will produce
a fluid or "liquor" that will cover the eggs and the eggs will appear
deflated and ruined. Don't worry! All the fluid will be reabsorbed
into the eggs bringing the cure & coloring deep into the egg!
-Once the eggs "plump up" again
roll out some paper towels and lay the eggs out to remove excess
liquid (Figure 7). This is the beginning of the drying process which
determines the toughness of your bait. The longer you air-dry, the
more durable the egg.
-With your eggs air-dried its Borax
time. Dump some Borax in a Ziploc and then start placing eggs in
and shake the Borax into every crevice (Figure 8). This is the second
component of your drying process. The longer your bait lays in the
borax, the drier your final product.
*for really red eggs add 2 tablespoons
of Pro Glow bait dye powder to the mixture - killer color for salmon.
-Adding scents to your eggs:
You can add herring, sardine, anchovy,
shrimp, and anise oils, to name a few, to your brine prior to adding
your eggs. Don't go too heavy on the scents, however, as too much
oil can turn your eggs into a slimy mess. A tablespoon of oil in
the brine is enough to get the job done.
Speaking of adding scents, Pautzke
Fire Cure is a dry preparation that includes shrimp scent in the
form of freeze dried krill within the mix. Pautzke's is a very mild
cure that can be left on the eggs for days without damaging them.
This long term process results in a wet, "milking" cure that is
superior for salmon fishing. For steelhead fishing however, we desire
a drier cure that results in a tougher egg cluster that is slower
to milk out and will remain on the hook for repeated casting. For
this reason I add non-iodized (Pickling & Canning salt) to the Pautzke
Fire Cure formula.
Just for Springers - Add Tuna Oil to your eggs!
A word on packaging:
After boraxing you might consider
rolling your eggs up in to paper towel "burritos". I like to put
about 3-4 chunks into a burrito and 3 burritos into a gallon Ziploc
for freezing. In this way I can thaw the exact amount of eggs I
need each day and cut the perfect size clusters from the chunks.
If you'd like to vacuum pack your
cured eggs place them in the freezer for 6 to 12 hours prior to
packaging. Once the eggs are frozen slightly they won't burst when
they are vacuumed. Another great way to put up eggs is to keep them
in Tupperware containers, which are easily stacked in the freezer.
These cures will give you excellent
eggs that will catch both salmon and steelhead. With time and experience
you might also be able to tweak these recipes a little to create
your own cures!