By: Mat Urbanski

Lake Ontario salmon season is upon us in the GTA and fishing has been good. We’ve been fortunate to have a great spring and early summer bite. We’ve seen fish average the low to mid 20s, which are all healthy fish. In the fall those fish are going to be 30 pounds. I’m very optimistic we will have a good summer season. The majority of us would say we are happy with what we’ve seen so far.

While anglers use spoons and trolling flies, the bait bite has been very good. Hardware does produce, but I believe nothing beats the real thing. You can’t compensate for the natural shine of whole bait and the reflection of scales from bait. That’s why we use bait on every trip.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t something new. Nonetheless, many guys still are shy about trying bait rather than spoons and flies. Anglers have been running bait on Lake Ontario for many years, but it’s become really popular in the last decade. Still, guys that run spoons and flies are apprehensive to try it. Ultimately, by running bait we are emulating the West Coast style, which is the traditional way of salmon fishing in the ocean. We are basically trying to replicate what they do when targeting salmon in the ocean in our own water in Lake Ontario.

Salmon eat bait naturally and that’s what we are trying to capture. There’s no replacement for Mother Nature. There are times lures out-fish bait, but for the most part nothing beats running bait. The natural shine that comes from herring or alewives can be mimicked by a spoon, but I’m going to say it again, there’s no replacement of the real thing.

By properly brining and rigging bait we are working on emulating the natural forage. In the Great Lakes that food supply is alewives, but we fish with sardines, ballyhoo, anchovies and Pacific herring to accomplish this. I prefer whole bait, but strips are popular, too. I like the whole look because it’s natural. However, some guys prefer strips because they are easier to use. They don’t have to cut them. They can use them out of the bag.

Brining bait does a few things, all of which are invaluable. Scale retention would be number one. Scales on bait are diamonds. They are where the money is at for any troller. When you brine bait the brine helps to retain that shine and those scales and also promotes that priceless flare and shine in the water. It also toughens the bait, makes it last longer and cures it so it keeps longer. Bait is expensive. Brining it makes your money go further and saves time.

If you were to take frozen herring out of the package, defrost it and put it in the water it’s going to soften. It will fall off the hook and turn to mush as you troll it at higher speeds. A brined product, however, will maintain that shine and keep while you are trolling. You won’t have to look at the bait every few minutes to make sure it’s still intact. Brining bait brings confidence and I use Pautzke Fire Brine, exclusively, to get the perfect bait every time.

The GTA Bait Brine

The Thaw

While some anglers brine the bait frozen I prefer to thaw it first. Defrosting it helps release a lot of moisture that’s within the bait. Then once you place the bait in the brine it retains as much of the brine as possible without competing with moisture already in it.


To brine bait you can use Tupperware, Ziploc or any sealable container. Once you’ve chosen a container take the defrosted bait and place inside. Then pour enough Fire Brine in the container to submerge the bait. I personally use Natural (clear) Fire Brine the most, but many anglers use blue and chartreuse.

Brine Time

I leave the bait in Fire Brine for at least eight hours. I prefer to leave it overnight, at least 12 hours, or more, but sometimes I run short on time and take it out sooner. Anglers often ask me how long the bait can stay in the brine, which is a good question. I’ve let the bait stay in the bag for a week and it’s fine. I’m a believer the bait will stay firm in the liquid for a week or more.

Color Choice

I mostly use Natural Fire Brine because I like to employ Fire Dye to color my baits. Basically, I use natural because I can leave the bait natural and then use the dye to customize the bait. I cater the dye to the bite. It gives me perfect bait on demand, per say. If you don’t want to use Fire Dye simply do this process with Chartreuse or Blue Fire Brine (or any of the other colors). The dye does, however, make your bait pop more and creates more vivid and deeper colors. Fire Dye doesn’t brine bait or toughen it up rather it enhances it.

There isn’t a rule of thumb as to which color bait to use in certain conditions. Chartreuse or green are the go to for me, but the blue works well when it’s overcast or in high sun. The blue really shows well in the water. I’m such a big proponent of natural shine and the blue enhances it. To see yourself drop Natural Fire Brine bait enhanced with Blue Fire Dye in the water and watch it. You’d want to eat it, too.

Color Boost

As discussed, my program always starts with bait submerged in Natural Fire Brine. From here I’ll employ colors of Fire Dye to achieve the color we want. For example, for a see-through translucent blue I’ll add Blue Fire Dye until I get the look I want. Meanwhile, the stuff is potent. You don’t need to use the entire bottle. You can tailor it to what you see fit. If I want the translucent look I’ll grab 10-15 pieces of bait from the Natural Fire Brine and squirt in a quarter bottle of the Blue Fire Dye. I’ll let it soak overnight, but the bait absorbs the dye almost instantly if you need to use it right away.

The real thing to highlight is the simplicity of this process. If you are just getting your feet wet with bait you don’t have to worry about making your own brine or mixing brine together and hoping you get the formula correct. All you do is pour the brine on the bait, let it sit and they end up perfectly brined and ready to fish. Fire Brine is an all in one product. For someone getting his or her feet wet to the tournament angler Fire Brine is seamless.

Rigging 101

There are many philosophies for rigging. I use a two-hook setup or a tandem rig, namely a treble that’s followed by a stinger or single hook. I always use 50-pound Bloodrun or Seaguar fluorocarbon. I leave enough space between the treble and the trailer hook to cover the middle of the bait to the tip of the tail. This setup works on herring, anchovies, etc. On the other hand, anglers that use strips run a single treble.

All bait belongs in a bait head. I use a Rhys Davis bait head. If I’m running anchovies I use Rhys Davis Special and for a strip a normal bait head works fine. There’s a variety of colors that work in the bait head. Everything from glow to green to clear is popular on the Great Lakes. With strips or whole bait you have a flasher in front of the bait itself (4 to 8 feet is ideal between the flasher and the bait). Distance depends on conditions and time of year. Popular flashers would be an Oki Kingfisher 2, Oki Big Shooters or Gibbs Delta Highliners.

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