By Josh Choronzey | 12/28/2011
There was a time when my pinhead companions and I would leave our hallowed steelhead waters of the north and venture to the “stateside” tribs of Lake Erie and Ontario to sample the awesome runs of chrome that were relatively virgin to the centerpin. Nine of 10 local anglers usually chucked fur and feather, putting up dismal numbers in comparison to the bounty we experienced with float and pin setups.
Fast forward 15 years and it’s apparent this technique spread across the Great Lakes and became the most lethal approach to connecting with migrating steelhead. These days, most successful river anglers are touting centerpin setups and bait. Consequently, when the masses follow suit making adjustments to your presentation is where an angler can break the mold and put the odds in their favor.
I found the easiest way to do this is to alter your bait choices and have turned to Pautzke Fire Cure and BorX O’ Fire as my vehicles to attain that edge.
Each Great Lakes region has a unique tradition associated with gear and bait choices. Since the late 70’s early 80’s Ontario steelheaders were pioneers in the Great Lakes centerpin scene. Ontario anglers have precisely drifted drag free baits suspended under floats for decades. Simply put, using floats and centerpin gear isn’t a new thing here, therefore putting more fish on the bank than the next guy is partly dependent on refining bait choices.
In my backyard, natural baits are the staple in the steelheader’s vest. To clarify, let me explain “natural”. West Coast bait cures aren’t common among Ontario steelhead junkies. Here anglers rely on fresh supplies of eggs personally harvested from our salmon and trout populations or commercially available eggs, which are preserved in chemicals unknown to the consumer. In terms of fresh eggs, the majority of local anglers tend to acquire eggs and store or freeze them untreated. This is a highly effective, yet messy ordeal.
Fresh eggs in the skein state don’t freeze well untreated. Their storage life in the fridge can be measured in hours. Mature/loose eggs, on the other hand, tend to freeze well and last longer in the fridge, but don’t produce as many bites as immature (skein) eggs in my opinion. Meanwhile, loose/mature eggs are hard to obtain. Rather than casting globs of egg most Great Lakes steelheaders present eggs in spawn bags. Whether fresh cut/scraped skein or loose mature eggs, they end up in a colored square of mesh or scarf material wrapped and tied into dime to quarter-sized bags.
I strive to maintain fresh, uncured eggs in my arsenal and go to great lengths to prep and store my eggs, yet upon thawing uncured skein I still inherit a mess. Prior to this year, if I got the process right I might gain a few near perfect Ziplocs of eggs, but the majority tend to become a sloppy, sticky product to tie into bags. Fortunately, life became easier upon discovering a few jars of Pautzke egg cure about 4 years ago. Since then I read articles on West Coast cures, asked questions and ultimately came up with some of my own recipes to suit my needs and wants in terms of a finished egg product.
Pautzke egg cures have improved my eggs and helped the mesh vanish and I’d like to share my discoveries.
My Needs & Wants In A Cure
-Egg color options
-Ability to cure single eggs since I primarily fish bags, rather than chunks and egg loops!
-Capability to freeze cured product and have a good product upon thawing
-Excellent refrigerator shelf life
-Natural scent after curing
-Durability in the bag tying process (don’t want eggs popping and sticky)
-Eggs that don’t wash out fast and remain somewhat soft
After countless hours tinkering with eggs here are 3 of my cure recipes for Great Lakes steelheading. Note: these cures use skeins, however eggs are scraped off the membrane for each cure, which is common in Ontario since the majority of anglers don’t fish skein chunks rather eggs inside mesh/scarf spawn bags.
Our color combinations are endless. Redwing Tackle produces mesh squares and single scarf material to tie bags in multiple colors, which compliment the excellent color options Pautzke provides in their cures. Pautzke cures are by far the easiest to use and most effective I’ve found.
The BorX O’ Fire Scrape Cure
*This is virtually the same process outlined on the Pautzke website video with Mark Chmura for curing Great Lakes spawn https://pautzke.com/classroom_videos.php?watch=14. It’s worth repeating because it’s simple, quick and effective without any sloppy mess.
Step 1: Take two fresh steelhead/salmon skeins (bleed your catch asap) and lay them on a table egg side down on paper towels to dry for up to two hours.
Step 2: Transfer skeins to newspaper, grab a small spoon and begin to “scrape” the membrane side of the skein with the edge of the spoon. This loosens the eggs underneath from each other and the membrane. Go easy and use a soft hand or you’ll break the eggs. Continue until all the eggs have been removed from the membrane.
Step 3: Spoon the scraped eggs onto a sheet of paper towel. Carefully spread them across the towel into a thin layer.
Step 4: Pick a color of BorX O’ Fire (I like mixing “natural” with “pink” or “orange”) and lightly sprinkle the cure over the eggs, just enough to make them look sugar coated. After a couple minutes mix the eggs with the spoon and bring the “uncoated” eggs to the top of the layer. Once again sprinkle on a small amount of BorX O’ Fire until you feel all the eggs have come in contact with the cure.
Step 5: Leave the eggs on the towel for up to three hours (longer = drier egg) and transport into Tupperware containers. If I intend to freeze the majority of the eggs I leave the eggs exposed to the air on the paper towel with the cure for up to three hours. It seems to produce a better egg when thawed.
Step 6: The eggs are ready to tie into bags or extended fridge storage. It’s amazing how well the sticky/sloppy scraped skein firms up on contact with Bor X O’ Fire. Without the membrane of the skein to cure there is less moisture and liquid content to contend with and the curing process moves along quickly. To freeze, I put enough eggs to tie 50 bags into tiny Ziploc snack bags. Once I have filled a dozen or so snack bags I place them inside a larger freezer bag, remove the air and stash in the freezer. The thawed product is easy to tie with.
The Nectar Bath Scrape
Step 1: Take a fresh salmon/steelhead skein and allow it to air dry on a paper towel for two hours.
Step 2: Transfer the skein to a newspaper and grab a small spoon. Use the edge of the spoon to scrape the membrane side of the skein, applying enough pressure to loosen the eggs from each other and the membrane. Continue until you have removed the eggs from the membrane and they are now in a “single” state.
Step 3: Spread the eggs onto the newspaper and allow them to air dry until they are no longer wet. (20min to one hour)
Step 4: Take a couple heaping spoon-fulls of eggs (approx. 100 eggs) and put them in a small Ziploc.
Step 5: Grab your favorite color of Nectar and squeeze a few healthy drops into the Ziploc. Almost immediately the immature eggs in the single state will begin to adsorb the Nectar.
Step 6: Put the Ziploc in fridge for no more than three hours (any longer and the outer shell of the immature egg will rupture from sucking in too much Nectar).
Step 7: Remove the eggs from the bag and place them on paper towel to dry. Lightly roll them around to speed up this process. Eggs are now ready to tie/freeze. To freeze, I put enough eggs for one trip worth of bags (50) into a small Ziploc, remove air and then place in a large freezer Ziploc with air removed.
* I like this cure to be used fresh. The frozen product (once thawed) is not quite as nice, but still effective. The fresh, immature eggs suck up the Nectar, producing an ultra-milking egg inside the spawn bag without washing out quickly. The Nectar also firms the soft immature eggs up enough to make them easy to tie. The color combination you can create is amazing…one squirt of orange Nectar and one squirt of red Nectar = early winter steelhead bonanza!
The Fire Cure Salvage
This process came about during a drunken steelhead weekend when three hardcore trib junkies spent two nights in a single man camper trailer. It’s the ultimate cure for salvaging a thawed sloppy messy of eggs. If you are a Great Lakes steelheader and familiar with scraped skein and the final product you’ll understand that these eggs (when frozen and thawed) can be a sloppy mess. One-of-three bags may freeze and thaw correctly, but the angler always has a good amount of messy eggs to tie. Sloppy, soft, cream corn looking eggs are not a nice product to create spawn bags from; this trick saves the day.
Note: Pautzke Bait Co. does not advise the use of previously frozen eggs in the curing process, but it happens sometimes.
Step 1: Thaw bag of scraped uncured skein.
Step 2: Transfer sloppy mess to a paper towel to remove rancid liquid.
Step 3: Shake a heaping amount of Fire Cure on the eggs and mix them around ensuring each egg contacts the cure.
Step 4: Transfer eggs to a clean, small Ziploc. Allow eggs to juice at room temperature for 2-4 hours, rotating the eggs in the bag often so they continue to mix with the cure.
Step 5: Place Ziploc in fridge till morning. Then, drain excess juices and put Ziploc back into fridge. By lunchtime the eggs will have absorbed any extra liquid and you have a product that looks 100x better than the mess you originally thawed! They will tie and smell better and catch more fish than the slop of a product you started with. I’ve salvaged quite a few ruined bags of “scrape” with this Fire Cure recipe.