When To Treat Steelhead Eggs With Brine or Powder Cure?

By Bruce Hewitt | 01/07/2015

It’s a common question I get asked a lot. People are curious how I’m able to get achieve bright, vibrant colors in my eggs, while also getting them to stay together when casted. Honestly, it’s simple. I choose the correct cure for the type of eggs I’m curing and their maturity.

For the purpose of this tutorial let’s act like we’re curing eggs from a female winter steelhead. We’ll cover immature and mature eggs, as each should be cured differently. Many anglers often make the mistake of curing all eggs the same, which is why consistent eggs aren’t always achieved.


Part 1: Tips For Preparation & Cutting

*Bleed the steelhead immediately after landing it by cutting its gills. It’s important to not put the fish on a stringer and let it lay in the water.

*When you’re ready to clean the fish place it on its back and cut from anal vent forward to the gill area. Try and cut as shallow as possible to avoid cutting into the skeins. Then carefully remove the eggs from the cavity by cutting them loose at the forward part of the body cavity.

*It’s important not to pull the skeins out without cutting them loose. Doing so would risk tearing the skein apart. Also, there’s no need to wash eggs if you have bled the fish properly when it was caught.

*Please remember to never rinse your eggs under tap water. There’s chlorine in our water, which can compromise the eggs.

*It’s ok to place eggs into refrigerator overnight, but don’t freeze eggs prior to curing.

When To Brine Steelhead Eggs

Right now our summer steelhead eggs are still maturing and the eggs and skein membrane are firm. When I’m working with eggs like this I use a quick brine method, grabbing whole skeins and placing them into a brine. This brine consists of Fire Brine, which I have added a bit of sugar, borax, Fire Power (krill powder) and anise oil.


When winter steelheading on the Columbia River here near Tri Cities, WA, I prefer to use Red Fire Brine as my base. I tend to brine eggs for eight hours rather than overnight simply because the eggs are already firm and hold together nicely. This method is reliable and quick. It requires a few hours brining draining and drying them either as whole skeins or cut baits.


Notice in the photos how I take a whole skein and reduce first into two equal halves, then subdivide each side until I have baits of preferred size. The key to good baits is maintaining a portion of the skein membrane on each bait. The membrane is a must to hold the eggs together for casting. One rule I follow is to use nickel size baits and small Corky’s in clear water and quarter size baits with bigger Corky’s in dirtier water.


When to Use BorX O Fire

When I get a hen steelhead and her eggs are more fully developed I don’t brine them, rather use a borax based cure like Pink or Orange BorX O Fire. Why use a dry cure rather than brine? When it comes to mature steelhead eggs I prefer a dry cure verses a liquid brine. This is because mature eggs produce enough juice in the curing process that a liquid brine isn’t necessary.


I start by premixing BorX O Fire with sugar and Fire Power in a Ziploc. Then I place whole skeins into the dry mix and agitate to mix thoroughly. After allowing the eggs to sit in this mix at room temperature for 3-4 hours I move the eggs to a cool area or refrigerator, periodically remixing the eggs and cure.


You’ll find that 24 hours later there is a fair amount of juicing occurring. If you really need to grab some partially cured eggs to fish with you can do so at this point. However, I have my best luck when I remix, thus allowing the eggs to juice out and then reabsorb the juices, which takes roughly three days. This also assures the color intensity of the eggs has reached his maximum and scent absorbed well. After this remove eggs and drain them. Now the skeins may be cut into desired size baits and allowed to dry for 12 -24 hours. This firms them up and makes them easier and cleaner to handle.


If you have more cured eggs than you will use in a few days, I suggest placing them into freezer bags and freezing or better yet, vacuum sealing. Eggs placed in freezer type bags dry out over time and should be used within couple months. Vacuum sealing extends the shelf life to several months, as there is no moisture lost.

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Editor’s Note: Bruce Hewitt operates Going Fishing Guide Service. For more info on his winter steelhead trips please visit http://catchingmorefish.com/.