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!
Gregory M Ambris says
I’m using liquid cure as a curing for my skein salmon eggs. How long do I leave them in the liquid before I empty out the liquid cure? Also do I need to use the borax powder?
Gareth Smith says
Each liquid cure has its own directions. I usually did it overnight. No borax needed!
I cured some eggs about a week ago and they still haven’t absorbed their juice. They are a little softer in consistency than taffy. Is their anything i can do to get them to plump back up?
Hey John, sorry been out fishing everyday. Did they plump back up? Usually after a week, it’s getting too late. Sometimes you can submerge them in a brine.
John doe says
Hey, I am assuming you’re talking about float fishing for salmon with roe… just a heads up… salmon don’t really like salty eggs as mentioned. Salmon aren’t eating at all in rivers so it doesn’t really matter what you use for floating. That’s why people call it flossing……. For some reason people think they do :P.
As for steelhead fishing, if you really want to cure your eggs well, the key is not to over cure your eggs. The reason that store bought eggs don’t work “as well” is because they are way too over cured. It’s better to add a little cure and change your roe bag more often then to have long lasting eggs that are so over cured they don’t give off any scent. :)
John, I’m not sure where you are fishing but our kings here on the west coast gobble eggs. The more upriver you are, the more salty you want them. Lots of people floss with beads and yarn but when you get fish on eggs here, most are way down the throat.
John Doe says
Fishing the Great Lakes, I’ll get salmon eating at the mouth when they are staging to head up river, but once they’re in spawning mode they’re not eating. Many people think they are cause the spawn bags float into their mouths (which are actually opening and closing constantly). You won’t see a salmon chase after a big pile of skien. You just won’t!
It’s a common misconception that they’re still eating. You can however use spoons and things like j13s to make them strike. But this is simply out of aggression to protect their spawning area from other fish.
Maybe the Salmon on the west coast are different :P and I’ll have to find out for myself! Until then I’ll trust what I’ve experienced, what others have experienced and what I’ve read online.
Well I can show you a thousand photos of eggs down the throats of west coast kings.
Casey Guo says
JD is right on. On the west coast, kings, Cohos and some steelhead slay cured roe all the time. Flossing is what people use for sockeye as they are the only species in salmon that don’t hit anything in the river system. That and flossing usually requires a leader more than 3 feet long which is illegal in some not all BC river systems.
Hi, i have cured salmon eggs using PRO-CURE bait cure. Problem with mine is that, they are still very soft.
What can u do to make them hard now?
I cured them in october and had frozen them, just thawed for steelhead.
Babar, once they are cured, it’s hard to do a lot. I’d put them on paper towels to dry in a cool place for a few days and see if they firm up (change the paper as needed). You can also try rolling them around in Borax.
Patrick Harmon says
How long can a person refridgerate salmon eggs prior to curing them?
Pat, I don’t like it much more than 24 hours in the fridge uncured…at most. Preferably no more than a couple hours.