Brining Steelhead Eggs The Great Lakes Way

Josh Choronzey

By Josh Choronzey | 03/17/2012

Since early November my kitchen has looked more like the “Cure Center.” Jars of egg cure line the counter, mason jars and Ziplocs take up considerable space in the fridge and fortunately, my Labrador puppy continues to show no signs of illness from licking the residual cure off my floor.

Since joining the Pautzke pro staff my inbox and Facebook page are loading up with “cure” requests from Ontario steelhead junkies. Fishing eggs is different on the Great Lakes compared to the West Coast and I’m glad to offer alternatives to the way guys cure eggs out West. We “tie bags” rather than fishing egg loops and chunks like our western brothers. However, there’s no doubt that Great Lakes approaches can put a beat down on left coast chrome. After spending months in my Mixology Lab trying to create the perfect egg I want to share what I’ve discovered. Lately I’ve been using Fire Brine for curing/prepping immature steelhead eggs.


There are plenty of variables that dictate the final product of bait; the time cured, type of cure, color, etc. Meanwhile, an important aspect is the original characteristic of the eggs. “Loose” mature eggs have different properties than immature “skeins” found in trout and salmon. In the Great Lakes both forms are available during different seasons.

Items To Note:

*Not having developed a hard outer shell, skeins tend to be much softer.

*You can’t “river wash” or “water harden” skeins or immature eggs.

*Loose eggs can be difficult to come, too.

When it comes to eggs I’m a big fan of fishing skein. If you are a boat angler chances are you catch steelhead/salmon with skeins. While skeins require TLC when it comes to caring for and fishing them if cured properly you’ll have the best steelhead bait on the river.

Here’s the latest procedure I have tinkered with in terms of producing awesome eggs, in a single state. These are meant to be tied in bags and float fished.


1. Start with the freshest eggs possible. Eggs in the skein form need to be free of blood. Dispatch and bleed your fish immediately. This is one of the most important factors in achieving a perfect final product.

  1. Don’t rinse the eggs or allow them to come in contact with water. If you bleed the fish quickly and properly there’s no need to rinse the skeins anyway. I like to remove them from the fish as soon as possible and store them in a large Ziploc.
  2. Once at home remove the skeins from the Ziploc and lay them membrane up on paper towel. This drains off excess moisture and fluids. I usually allow my skeins to air dry for 30 minutes.
  3. Take the skeins and place them on a newspaper on a cookie sheet. They are now ready to scrape. With a small metal spoon, begin to scrape the membrane side of the skein, loosening the eggs underneath. Use enough pressure to push the eggs out from under the membrane without breaking the surface or the eggs. This process takes some practice, but becomes easier over time.
  4. Once all the eggs have been removed from the membrane you are left with “scraped skein.” The eggs will be in a loose form and sticky to the touch. Notice the underdeveloped eggs are soft and break easily if you are rough with them. The Fire Brine curing process solves this.
  5. Take a large Ziploc freezer bag and add 1/3 a bottle (for small/medium steelhead skeins) of Pautzke Fire Brine of your choice. I have been messing with all colors and like the final product of this cure in red. Carefully add your scraped eggs to the bag and allow them to soak in the Fire Brine for one hour or up to three hours. Remember, these are immature, not loose eggs. You don’t want these eggs to soak for a long time. The shells on immature eggs can’t withstand a prolonged soaking. While you don’t have to personally I add a quarter cup of natural BorX O Fire because it aids in firming up the eggs. (If you want a softer egg, feel free to leave it out.) Sometimes I only add a tablespoon, though. Feel free to experiment with this on your own.


7. After the eggs have soaked for an hour or so, drain the bag into a strainer. The color of the eggs will floor you! Spread the eggs out in a single layer on a paper towel. I put the paper towel on the same cookie sheet I used before and then pop them in the fridge where I allow them to air-dry overnight. This removes excess moisture and toughens them up for the perfect final product.

8. Once the eggs have air-dried in the fridge over night they are ready to tie in bags or store. I store my eggs in the fridge and freezer if I don’t intend to use them a.s.a.p. Small Ziplocs without the use of a vacuum packer is ideal, as the shells of the scraped eggs are still somewhat soft and cannot withstand too much pressure.

Remove air from the bag by rolling the bag or sucking it out with a straw. I pack 4 or 5 small Ziplocs inside a larger freezer bag and once again remove the air. These freeze fine. However, I have been on the river a lot this winter and early spring and my eggs are used often so the freezer time is minimal!

When removing the eggs from the freezer thaw them out slowly. Rushing the job in warm water or on the counter will result in a wetter egg. When tying these eggs in bags look no further than the great selection of scarf material produced by Redwing Tackle. The color options are endless. I’m certain that the combos of scarf and Fire Brine make drifting bags that no one else can match!

If you are a West Coaster than you can bet that 99% of the anglers around you are drifting chunks and not fishing bags at all. Try this method and I will guarantee you will be impressed with the results. I know I am.