Winter steelhead season is upon us and that means it’s time to bust out the eggs!
Regardless of the watershed you’re on, drifting eggs is very hard to beat for winter-run fish. But eggs aren’t without their inherent problems: Roe is a delicate bait and the constant casting and drifting in fast current and bouncing off rocks means your offering takes a beating. Depending on your cure and the water you’re fishing, a cluster of roe may last only one to five casts
What that means is you’re going to spend a lot of time re-baiting. And when you consider the fact that steelhead are often referred to as the “fish of a thousand casts,” time spent out of the water is time wasted. So, what’s the answer?
Spawn Sacks, of course!
Spawn Sacks or “egg bags” are simply berries of eggs held together in little balls with netting. You can use loose eggs or small clusters…it doesn’t really matter.
Having your bait tied in a sac not only keeps you in the water longer by reducing the number of re-baits you have to do but it also extends the life of your eggs. A spawn sac routinely lasts 10 or more casts – which is a huge improvement. Additionally, you can flub your cast (forget to flip the bail, etc.) and not have your bait all fly off.
And when there are squawfish, trout or smolt around, they can’t peck all you bait off in short order.
The downside to spawn bags is it takes some prep time the night before to get a bunch tied up and ready for action. I typically spend close to an hour an evening tying up bags for the next day’s fishing but I still end up saving time in the long run by not having to put fresh bait on every cast or two – which is really a plus when I have three or four clients on the boat.
How to make Spawn Bags
All you need to make up a bunch of spawn balls is some netting – available in pre-cut squares or rolls at most tackle shops. To tie the bags up, buy a roll of Magic Thread and then make sure you have a sharp pair of scissors handy.
Now, place a thumb-nail sized cluster of eggs in the center of a small square of netting and then pull the netting tight and twist it a couple times in your hand.
Before you tie your bags, you can add other stuff to them – like shrimp or any other secret “bite enhancer” you may like to use. Also, you can place some small puffballs in there to add buoyancy.
Wrap the top with 4 to 6 turns of Magic Thread (it sticks to itself and doesn’t require a knot) and then trim everything nice and tight so all you end up with is a tight little bag of eggs. Just don’t go so tight that you squish the eggs!
You can make bags by hand or try the Spawnee Bait Tying Machine from Atlas Mike’s (available for about $20 at www.atlasmikes.com).
As far as storage goes, I like to put my baits into Mason Jars or Tupperware containers and fill them to the brim with Brite & Tight (also available from Atlas Mikes), a bottle-based cure that preserves, scents and dyes your eggs. It’s super easy – just drop your baits in the solution, seal your containers and put ‘em in the fridge until you are ready to fish.
Try spawn sacs out this winter – you’ll instantly love how much more time you spend fishing!
Can you freeze spawn bags
Don, that’s a good question! Spawn bags are difficult to freeze. When freezing cured eggs, they come out better as full skein. The only thing that may work (though I have never tried) is freezing them in some sort of brine. Good luck!
Oh yes , they work great they will smack them before fresh
I need to no how long to leave the spawn in the river to cure it,they call it river cure?
Dennis, I am not sure I follow…I have never heard of curing eggs in the river…
If you get fresh loose eggs from a rainbow or salmon, just put them in a mesh bag and put them in the river water for about 15 minutes. They will turn out perfect
How long do you leave the spawn in the river to Cure it for a river cure? I don’t remember I did it once and they were good for over a year. I need some help please.
How do you make spawn that is soft harder like fresh from the skein.
Brine it or pull the mesh tighter…
Hey JD, do you recommend a cure that doesn’t contain all the nasty chemicals? I have a horrible reaction to all the commercial cures that contain sulfites. I usually just use the tried and true borax method but I’m always looking for alternatives. Thanks!
Actually that cure in the article is sulfite free. There are several other companies doing cures with sulfite also. Look for the ones that say “Meets Oregon guidelines”.
K arl says
Thanks for the info, I will put it to use on the American River
Couple questions for any of you experts out there:
1) I get the argument for having your bait in the water longer, but all else being equal, do you think wrapping roe in span sac decreases the visual appeal to fish at all? If you had one cast to catch a salmon/stealhead would you feel less confident using roe wrapped in span sac vs. free roe in egg loop?
2) Is there a reason not to just run the hook through the span sac right below the tie point, instead of using an egg loop. From my limited experience they seem to stay on much better than cinching in an egg loop?
John, I have no issues with the visual end of spawn sacks. If you don’t run them in the egg loop, the sac will slide down to the bend of the hook, where it can clog up the point…and potentially cause the whole thing to spin.
Ahh, I seeee…
I have tried to catch steel head on the Russian river with no luck
where is a good spot to go for a beginner?
or should have pay you to take me out and show me? how much?
Marvin, the best (but most crowded) spot is the mouth of Dry Creek in Healdsburg. Drift roe or toss a No. 4 Blue Fox spinner. Sorry, I don’t guide the Russian.
Below Wohler Bridge, park just on the west side of the bridge.
someone told me that any salmon caught on the river you can’t keep
is that true?
where are the pics from above at?
beautiful area and fish
JD what’s the best way to attach the spawn sac to the hook?
Best way is to use the egg loop knot. YouTube JD’s channel, on how to tie the knot and you should be golden.
Right, Arty! Thanks for chiming in. I run the hook just below the knot, roll the bait over and then loop the egg loop just over the knot. Kinda hard to describe without a visual but you get the idea…
Jim Del Bono says
JD Will jar bought salmon eggs work if tied in spawn sacs?
Jim, yes, you can used jar eggs! I once had a 23-pound native BC steelhead caught right next to me by a buddy using egg bags made up of Balls O’ Fire!
Soft but Satisfying :)