Learn to Cure/Fish Coon Shrimp for PNW Springers

By: Terry Wiest

The Springers are coming! Meanwhile, the Columbia River is high and dirty. Therefore, many anglers will be looking for smaller water alternatives. On the other hand, to approach smaller water alternative tactics need to be employed, which we’ll cover in this blog.

In the Northwest we have several alternatives to the Columbia that offer reasonable spring Chinook runs. In Washington, I like the Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama down south and the Sol Duc further up the coast. In Oregon, give the Trask, Nestucca or Rogue a try. The McKenzie used to be phenomenal, but has dwindled in recent years. It’s trying to come back, and if it does it’s a fantastic river to fish. The McKenzie also produces good numbers of summer steelhead. Particularly in late May and June you can target both.

Smaller waters don’t offer the numbers of the Big C, but tend to be easier to fish. Many prefer smaller rivers because they are less intimidating, smaller and it’s easy to locate holding water and structure. Most the smaller waters open in April and continue through June. In fact, some extend their seasons further. Check up to date regulations for updated opening/closing dates on these fisheries. They change frequently.

springers small water

In these smaller tributaries hover fishing deeper water is effective, as is back bouncing holes and running bait divers. These methods aren’t different from what we do to catch fish on the Columbia. However, success can be realized by switching up baits. Most will be using eggs, but I prefer shrimp. Sand Shrimp works paired with eggs. Nonetheless, it’s tough to beat cured coon shrimp.


When running shrimp I look for deep holes below fast water. The fish tend to hold in these pools while gaining energy before conquering the next set of fast water. Also look for structure. Like other salmon, springers want to protect themselves from predators. Structure gives them a sense of safety.

Rigging a coon shrimp is easy. Using a two-hook mooching setup (1/0’s are ideal) insert the back hook underneath the shrimp where the tail meets the body. Push it along the inside of the tail shell, then push until the point comes barely out the bottom and the eye of the hook is barley showing. Now take the top hook and insert it from the bottom of the head through the top with just the point sticking out and pointing forward. The eye of the hook should be about even with the nose of the shrimp. Most anglers break off any existing whiskers.

Before we dive into how I cure my shrimp know that creating a scent trail is going to be the single most important factor in getting a springer to bite. While many use Fire Brine or Nectar, when curing shrimp I prefer Red BorX O Fire and then add scent to give the shrimp a little kick. Fire Power is krill. I believe it enhances the coon shrimp’s own basic smell. I add that and anise.

Color is equally important. A bright coon shrimp might catch the eye of a Chinook even if the scent trail is off to the side. This is why I add Red Fire Dye. Some argue BorX O Fire itself has color, which is true. Nonetheless, after adding the Fire Dye you’ll notice a huge, fish attracting difference. (Remember to wear gloves or your hands will be red, too.) I don’t like to get too fancy and add a bunch of ingredients to my cure, but I do tweak my cure slightly from what’s in the bottle. This is what I use.



¼ cup Red BorX O Fire

2 Ounces Red Fire Dye

½ cup bakers sugar (it’s finer & dissolves better)

1 teaspoon Fire Power (or Liquid Krill)

½ teaspoon pure anise oil

Distilled water



Step 1:

Mix ingredients in a quart mason jar. Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved.

20170331_180711_001 20170331_181151_001

Step 2:

Pour the mix into a temporary holding container.

Step 3:

Add enough coon shrimp to fill half the jar. I like to do this to distribute the mix more effectively.

Step 4:

Pour half the mix (from Step 1) on the shrimp in the jar. Then add more coon shrimp in order to fill the jar. Pour the remaining mix in the jar.


Step 5:

Add distilled water until it’s a quarter inch from the top.

Step 6:

Seal jar, label it and store in refrigerator. When labeled with what type of shrimp and the date it’s easier to grab the correct bait for the upcoming trip. Grab the oldest ones first.


Step 7:

Turn jar upside down after 12 hours. After another 12 hours turn right side up. Repeat this process at least twice. These shrimp will be ready to use in two weeks. By turning the jars we are distributing the mixtures into all the crevices to make sure the shrimp are completely cured and dyed. Although you can fish these right away it will take approximately two weeks to be fully cured and take on the deepest red possible. After two weeks they don’t seem to change much, but will remain effective for at least a year, more than likely two.


Editor’s Note: Award winning author Terry Wiest is based in the Pacific Northwest. He’s the mastermind of Steelhead University. For more information please visit http://steelheadu.com.