Anglers Running Herring For Great Lakes Salmon

By: Kyle Deavers

Let’s be honest, five to eight years ago few anglers were running herring strips in the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, the last few years anglers have been running bait daily. A lot of tournament anglers run this meat to catch larger fish. And, the charters fleets and recreational boaters have followed suit. Running meat in the Great Lakes has become an every day occurrence.

The reason I run meat is because it helps catch fish. Sometimes even if the meat doesn’t get bit other rods around get bit more because of the smell and appearance of the meat. Meat works well because it imitates the natural bait source and it’s something different the fish don’t see as much as spoons and flasher flies. Meat rigs are on our lines daily along with spoons and flasher flies. It’s always good to have an assortment of baits.

Great Lakes anglers know that if you run bait it’s imperative that you brine it. I brine mine in Fire Brine because it toughens the herring. Sometimes I can catch two to three fish per herring strip if it’s not destroyed because the brine toughens it up. The color brine brings is valuable, too. A blue herring strip is almost like the blue flies we use trolling, but it has a natural scent. Chartreuse is another good color. Brining baits makes the herring’s scales shine and saves money because the bait lasts longer.


The Great Lakes Herring Brine

Step 1: Buying Herring

Finding fresh herring is tough. However, frozen strips are available at a few local stores. Fresh bait is always best, but it’s a chore to find in the Great Lakes. Keep in mind purchasing herring strips isn’t cheap. Good strips of bait average $10-18 a pack and not all packs are created equal. Some of the bait sold looks fresh and others don’t. Try to start with the best looking bait you can.

Step 2: Containers

Use a small plastic container and pour in your desired color of Fire Brine. I personally use Blue, Natural and Chartreuse. For me meat works best from first light to mid morning. However, many of the guys I talk to in other parts of the Great Lakes catch salmon on meat all day.

Step 3: Brine

The brining part is easier than finding the bait to purchase. Place herring strips in the brine and let them sit for at least six to eight hours. An overnight soak is always the best. The herring will be firmer. Because I go through so much bait oftentimes I don’t have a full day to soak them so overnight. Therefore, an eight-hour soak has to do. This works but longer soaks are better.

Special Note: The Chartreuse Fire Brine isn’t super strong. It brines the herring great, but doesn’t pack a vibrant punch rather a chartreuse hue, which some anglers are ok with. To make my chartreuse baits bling I’ll add a healthy squirt of Chartreuse Fire Dye. The strip takes the dye instantly and never fades. Meanwhile, with the Blue Fire Brine dye isn’t necessary.


Step 4: Rigging

For rigging I use Muscle Meat Heads. They are the most simple meat heads to use. You place them in the harness, push down on the clip and they are ready to fish. If you can’t find these there’s many other companies that make meat heads. When running color meat (blue and chartreuse) I prefer to use all clear meat heads. Use UV clear or clear meat heads because the color is more vibrant that way with the colored herring strips.

Step 5: Flashers

When fishing meat heads in the Great Lakes we always fish them with a flasher. You want something that’s going to catch their attention. Chrome, white and green, UV and white or any UV flashers are good choices. Lately I’ve been using Spin Doctors, Kingfish flashers and 11-inch paddles. For a mainline I’ll run 20-25 fluorocarbon line.

*Pautzke Fire Brine is available at Canadian Tire, Sail, Walmart (except in New York), Bass Pro and many tackle shops.

Editor’s Note: Kyle Deavers operates Big Boy Fishing. For more info on his Great Lakes salmon charters please visit