Here’s a fun little exercise in futility: Ask a salmon angler what’s in his favorite cure. First, you’ll get a blank stare, followed by some incoherent mumbling and then a very deliberate attempt to change the subject – it’s almost as if you’re talking to a politician about illegal campaign contributions. Guys get very protective of their cures and it’s usually one of those don’t ask type of deals. It’s a dead end!
Luckily, there are plenty of commercially produced cures on the market that produce excellent baits. Pro Cure, Pro Glow, Shur-Cure and Pautzke’s Fire Cure are all excellent choices, though my favorite ready-made cure for salmon is Atlas-Mikes Shake & Cure. You really can’t go wrong with any of those. Each brand has it’s own suggested curing method so all you have to do is follow the directions on the side of the container and you’re in business.
If you want to really keep it basic,there are some new liquid cures out there that all you have to do is pour some over your bait and… Presto…in several hours, you have cured roe! Read my article on how to do that HERE If you want to go ahead and try making your own cure, read on…
While you’ll be able to happily catch fish on store-bought cure for the rest of your days, the logical progression in egg fishing eventually leads to the desire to make your own. I’ll admit, it’s fun to play mad scientist and experiment with different recipes – and it’s extremely gratifying to out-fish everybody else with your own secret concoction.
But designing a cure is no small undertaking. There are lots of factors to consider and I guarantee you’ll destroy a bunch of good eggs until you get all the bugs worked out (ask me how I know!). Egg curing is a science and requires a lot more space than we have here, so I’m going to touch on a few of the basic principles to get you started.
The first thing you should know about roe cures is that salmon seem to really like salty eggs. To that end, most salmon cures are full of stuff like sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite and sodium nitrate. Not only do you have the salt factor there, but these ingredients help preserve the life of your bait while also helping to inhibit mold growth. There’s usually a smaller amount of sugar in the mix and then the sky’s the limit as far as additional scents go. Some folks like to add extra scents like sardine oil, anise, krill powder or shrimp oil to their cures. Additionally, baits cured up with salmon fishing in mind are usually dyed bright “rocket” red. Yes, you can catch kings and silvers on plain ol’ Borax eggs but you’ll tip the odds in your favor by adding these extra ingredients.
You can also get into changing the ingredients as you move upstream – less salt for fish holding near tidewater and more salt in the mix the further upstream you fish. I know, I know – this all sounds very complicated, but here’s a good, basic salmon cure to get you in the game:
Salmon Cure Recipe
- 1 Cup Sodium Sulfite (available from Pro Cure)
- 1 Cup Borax (Buy 20 Mule Team Borax – not Boraxo – in the laundry section of the supermarket)
- 1 Cup Non-Iodized Salt
- 1 Cup White Sugar
- 1 Teaspoon of red bait dye (Pro Cure and Pro Glow make it)
Wearing rubber gloves, mix all the ingredients together and then pour the cure into a clean shaker bottle (like parmesan cheese comes in). Lightly shake the cure onto the quartered skeins, making sure that you get the powder into all the folds and flaps of eggs. Once all your baits are covered in cure, drop them into gallon-sized Zip-Loc bags and gently roll the bags around to further coat the eggs in cure.
In a few minutes, the eggs will begin juicing…the process has begun! Store the bags in a cooler or old fridge overnight and turn them over every couple hours. As you do, be sure to pour out the juice. The next morning, you can add a little secret ingredient if you like. Sometimes, I’ll pour a tablespoon or two of tuna oil, anise or sardine oil to give the bait a little extra “kick.” Put the bags back in the fridge and the baits should pull the secret sauce in and, a day later, you’ll have big, plump berries that are ready to fish.
For a more gooey egg, don’t drain off the juice as frequently and, if you want a little tougher bait for drift fishing, take the eggs and put them in a plastic strainer for several hours. Just make sure the eggs are in a cool place and out of the sun.
Salmon like the salty cures, while steelhead are more fond of a sweeter cure. A really fishy and easy recipe is what’s known as the 3-2-1 Cure, used by none other than steelheading legend Buzz Ramsey.
Buzz’s cure goes like this: Mix three parts borax, two parts sugar and 1 part salt together. Then, you sprinkle the concoction onto you skeins. Buzz likes to cut them into three or four manageable pieces so it’s easier to get an even coating on the eggs. He says you want to cover the eggs with cure about like you would flour chicken for frying.
Next, place the skein chunks into a plastic container with a good sealing lid into the fridge. Over time, you’ll see the eggs “juice up” as the salt and sugar draw moisture out of them. Turn the container over a few times a day so that the eggs cure evenly. At some point, the eggs will look flat and deflated. Don’t panic — the magic is about to begin!
The eggs will reabsorb all the juices and end up plump after a day or two in the tub. You can then dry them out and use them or put them in Mason jars or Tupperware and freeze them. Buzz says that due to the high sugar and salt content, the eggs are very resistant to freezer burn and will keep a long time.
With this cure, you can start the inevitable tinkering process. When the eggs are deflated and expelling juice, you can add scents and colors. They sky’s the limit here, but popular oils include sand shrimp, garlic, tuna and anise. With bait oils, go light so that your eggs don’t turn out super messy. Bright dyes and food coloring can also be added to make your bait more vibrant.
The testing process is, of course, the most exciting part of egg curing. The only way to get feedback is to put the stuff in the water and see how the fish like it. In addition to keeping tabs on how often you get bit, pay attention to how well your bait milks, holds its color and stays on the hook. Eventually, you’ll be able to use that information to build the perfect cure!