By Josh Choronzey | 06/19/2012
There’s something cool about working biceps on massive summer Chinooks on Lake Ontario with Toronto’s greatest landmark, the CN tower, in the backdrop. I absolutely love downrigging the Great Lakes for salmon. Who wouldn’t?
However, the Great Lakes offshore salmon game is becoming a technical fishery. I recall plenty of early morning downrigging trips as a wee Jam Eater in the mid 80’s. Back then, a good paper graph, a hand crank temperature gauge, a pair of downriggers and an array of spoons and plugs would fill a box with chrome kings and Coho.
These days, on the other hand, offshore salmon freaks are constantly setting the bar higher with new technology and techniques. Side imaging units, GPS, temperature probes, auto pilot, new cannon ball designs, wire lines, leadcore and copper rigs are becoming the norm.
Great Lakes salmon anglers are gear junkies. New products come to the marketplace and become a boom or bust within a season here. Meanwhile, considering the amount of water, the numbers of salmon stocked and high number of anglers utilizing the fishery it becomes apparent that the Great Lakes is the perfect testing ground for new products in the downrigging world.
Where am I going with this? I have been doing some testing of over the past couple months. Not the kind that requires a PHD in electronics to outfit a boat. No No. Instead, I’ve reverted to basics and have been tinkering with a simple liquid solution from the folks at Pautzke: Fire Brine.
When Pautzke’s Chris Shaffer and I touched base last year about a pro staff position I ranted and raved about Pautzke Nectar and how I was brining my herring strips and anchovies in the colored liquid. He filled me in on Fire Brine and told me how it would be a game changer in bait brines. He was right. I started using the brine in late fall after our salmon season winds down on the Great Lakes. Fire Brine proved to make an incredible cure for my eggs as I spent the winter and spring chasing steelhead. The final product of a Fire Brined egg was awesome. It yielded vivid and vast color options. Come May, I was dying to get out on the big water and put the brine to use on my meat rigs for Chinooks. The testing ground would be the hottest Chinook fishery east of the Rockies: Lake Ontario.
Lake O is a salmon trolling hotbed. The largest kings and Coho in the Great Lakes can be found in Lady O. Mature Chinook top 30lbs by mid-May and come late summer, some of these brawlers will breach the 40lb mark. The numbers of Chinook is off the charts. NY State and the Province of Ontario stock the lake. Private clubs also provide some support. There’s a large percentage of naturally reproducing salmon, too.
Since early May I’ve taken the quick trip down to the north shore of Lake Ontario a number of times to tee off on some chrome offshore salmon. In early summer large wolf packs of kings feed heavily in waters from 80 to 300 feet offshore between Niagara Falls and Toronto.
Due to a large abundance of food this area is popular among the large charter fleet and tournament teams who are competing in the KOTL salmon series. Mass amounts of alewives (similar to herring) travel along the north shore in preferred water temps, which are kept fairly cool near shore thanks to north and west winds that are common in the summer months. Over the past decade top baits for these hungry Chinook have mainly consisted of three primary presentations: spoons, hard plugs and flasher & flies or meat combos. These baits are usually fished off of downriggers, diving disks (Dipsy) and copper or leadcore flatlines.
When it comes to meat we have a few options: West Coast anchovies and herring (whole) and Great Lakes alewives. Lake Ontario is often called: The Birthplace of Great Lakes Meat Fishing. South shore anglers from NY began to tune the herring and anchovy program 15 years ago. Since then the presentation spread. Trolling meat is now common in the Great Lakes.
For years anglers have relied on meat rigs straight out of the package or constructed crude bait brines to extend the cooler life of their baits. I tinkered with custom brines for almost 10 years. Rock salts, bluing agents and commercial scents are common ingredients in my past brines. Nevertheless, the problem with custom brines is achieving the correct ratios and trying to add vivid color to the meat, which doesn’t wash out.
Last summer, I thought I had the custom brine process down to an art when I added Pautzke Nectar. Now, the Nectar still plays a role, but my main brine ingredient is Fire Brine. Shaffer was 100% correct when he stated that Fire Brine would make my meat fishing so much easier.
The brining process I use is simple:
Step 1: Thaw package of bait until they no longer stick together
Step 2: Dump 1 dozen baits into a large Ziploc
Step 3: Add ½ bottle of Fire Brine (choose a color)
Step 4: Add 1 tbsp of natural BorX O Fire
Step 5: Add a few squirts of Nectar (I also add a dash of Fire Power or squirt of Liquid Krill)
Step 6: Let sit on counter for an hour while periodically mixing the bag to ensure the powder is dissolved and absorbed
Step 7: Allow baits to soak in fridge for 8–12 hours
You can tweak this brining process as you see fit. However, Fire Brine already comes in a highly concentrated formula. As long as the main ingredient is Fire Brine it is pretty hard to screw it up! I have added Nectar, Fire Power and Liquid Krill to my brines with success. If you want 2-Tone color combos look no further than Duane Inglin’s Pautzke Blog on the topic of Fire Brined Herring in 2-Tone patterns
Pautzke Fire Brine is by far the most angler friendly bait brine I have ever used. On top of that claim it’s also the most effective. The liquid solution provides the curing agents that firm and shine the baits, plus the color options available makes producing a preferred color an easy task.
Want to troll a blue herring? No problem. Want orange, red or purple? No issue either! To create vivid green bait, I have been mixing chartreuse Fire Brine with a few squirts of blue Nectar to produce “slim green” which was a hot color over the past month.
Not to be forgotten is the UV enhancing capabilities that Fire Brine adds to the baits I brine. Salmon have the ability to see UV light in deep water. Studies on the West Coast and Great Lakes have begun to shed light on this characteristic. Fire Brine adds that extra amount of UV reflection that provides a much more visible target down deep.
Another benefit of the Fire Brined baits is the ability to keep the brined meat for extended periods of time. Anglers don’t always have the benefit of ample free time. I have brined baits on a Saturday to fish the following day and finished the weekend with extra anchovies which did not get used. I simply threw them back in the brine and into the fridge and didn’t fish again until the following Sunday and the baits were perfectly fine. After six days in the fridge the baits were still firm, fresh and full of color, which wasn’t the case with my previous brines.
Fire Brined anchovies and whole herring have landed the bulk share of the big Chinooks me and my fishing partners have boated this year so. Our typical Lake O trolling spread consists of 4-8 rods. The spread includes a couple Dipsy Diver set-ups with either spoons or flasher/fly combos. Planner board set ups go hand in hand with spoons.
Our downrigger sets have been hot. The hottest rigger presentations have been Spin Doctor Flashers with 40 inches of fluorocarbon leader to a Rhys Davis Anchovy Head paired with a Fire Brined blue, chartreuse or custom green ‘chove. The results speak volumes. So far this year, every single king over 20lbs to hit the deck has come off a Fire Brined bait. Big fish love em, and in due time, I am sure Fire Brine will be a staple in plenty of Great Lakes angler arsenals.