By Andy Martin | 01/18/2015
When it comes to winter steelhead fishing on the West Coast, few things are as effective as naturally cured salmon or steelhead eggs. Presented properly, steelhead often can’t resist a natural-colored cluster of roe as it drifts down the river.
In 10 years of guiding, and many years fishing on my own before that, I’ve tried just about every cure out there. The most effective cure I’ve found for getting my customers onto fish day in and day out is what I call “steelhead candy,” a mix of Pautzke’s simple, yet very effective BorX O Fire, combined with a few extra ingredients. Most days I use eggs cured in natural BorxOFire. Sometimes I use pink. For the most part, I’ve found steelhead prefer the natural-colored eggs.
Before curing the eggs, I butterfly the skeins lengthwise. Carefully cut the eggs from top to bottom, in the middle of the skein. Be gentle. It’s easy to crush the eggs. It’s very important to start with clean eggs. Bleed your fish as soon as you catch it by gutting its gills and letting it bleed out in the water. When you remove the eggs, don’t allow them to come into contact with water or anything else. Wrap them in a paper towel and immediately place them in a plastic bag to store until you cure them. Cure as soon as possible.
After butterflying the skein, cut each of the sections into four or five pieces. Cut the smaller pieces of skein along the fold, horizontally. These smaller pieces will cure better than a whole skein. I don’t cut the roe into bait-size skeins until I am ready to fish them. Place the smaller sections of skein in a plastic container.
In a plastic bag, I mix the cure. I start with three parts of Pautzke BorX O Fire. Measure in whatever portions you like. For a typical set of steelhead skeins, I will use three 1/3 cups of the BorX O Fire.
Then ad one part sugar to the three parts BorX O Fire. Again, with a typical set of skeins, I will be using a full cup of BorX O Fire and 1/3 cup of sugar.
I mix the combination of BorX O Fire and sugar in the plastic bag. Regular BorX O Fire works well, but the sugar preserves the bait better, hardens it up a little, and makes it sweeter, something steelhead really prefer. The borax in the BorX O Fire will prevent mold and help dry out the eggs. Unlike just plain borax, the combination of BorX O Fire and the extra sugar will make a long-lasting egg that will last for several weeks in the fridge.
To cure the eggs, I generously cover the roe with the BorX O Fire mixture, roll the eggs around in them, and then add more of the cure. Be gentle when rolling the eggs. Apply a little more of the cure. The BorX O Fire is a forgiving cure, so adding too much generally won’t burn your eggs.
After coating the eggs with the cure, I like to add a little scent at the beginning of the curing process. Anise oil works well. So does sand shrimp, shrimp or krill. There are a variety of scents available on the market. A little goes a long way. Just a few drops are all that’s needed.
After adding the scent, gently mix the eggs again and place in a sealed plastic bag for three days.
Within a few minutes of adding the cure, you will see the eggs begin to juice up. The eggs will expel liquid, and then over three days soak it back up, along with the scent and cure. In a pinch, you could fish the eggs the next day. But I’ve noticed that after three days they have soaked back the liquid, and are ready to dry and fish. I cure the eggs at room temperature in my garage, and then store them in the fridge.
While the eggs can be fished without drying, they are more durable by drying for several hours. I place them on an upside down milk crate and air dry them overnight, then re-bag them.
The morning of my trips, I cut the eggs to bait-size pieces on the boat. Usually about the size of a dime, or smaller. I pre-tie my leaders with a small piece of yarn, and add a Puff Ball or Fish Pill to the eggs on the hook.
Editor’s Note: Pautzke Pro Staffer Andy Martin is a full-time guide in Southern Oregon and Northern California, based in Brookings, Ore., near his home river, the Chetco. His web site is wildriversfishing.com.