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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
Picture the scene, it is early September and good numbers of salmon are surging up the Sacramento River. You give the folks at Vierra’s Resort a call and sure enough they report that trollers are hooking good numbers of kings. The next morning finds you at Veirra’s launch ramp. After clearing the dock you set a course upriver toward Walnut Grove and spool out a Silvertron Spinner.
You’ve probably covered two miles of river when the rod draws down into a rainbow bend and the clicker screams as line flows off the reel. You grab the rod from the holder and the fight is on. Several minutes later a huge chrome bright 20 plus pound hen chinook appears beside the boat and you scoop it aboard.
Back at Vierra’s later in the morning you turn your attention to cleaning your catch and discover that the abdominal cavity of the king is filled to capacity by two heavy skeins of bright orange eggs. Looking at the eggs you can’t help but think that if only you knew how to cure them you’d have all the eggs you need for steelhead fishing later in the year. Yet, you have no idea how to prepare them, after all egg curing is a mysterious process that only guides know how to perform using borax, raspberry Jello mix and probably voodoo. Alas, you discard the eggs and head home trying to remember if you have woodchips for the smoker.
I hate to tell you that if you’ve lived out this scene in the past you’ve blown it big time. That roe was worth its weight in gold and curing it is a simple pain free process, provided you invest a little time in preparation. There are a myriad of different cures and curing methods available these days. In this article I’ll go over one of the basic curing methods.
The egg curing process begins before you go fishing since you’ll want all the needed ingredients on hand when you come home with some roe. When you hook an egg bearing hen, bleed the fish before dispatching it. Not only will this result in superior meat, but it will also insure that the eggs have a minimal amount of blood in them. Once the fish has bled out put it on ice, so both the meat and the roe stays cool.
The first cure I’d like to describe requires sugar, salt, sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite and Pro-Cure Bad Azz Bait Dye in the color of your choice. The curing compound is mixed as follows: 3 parts sugar, 1 part salt, 1 part sodium sulfite, 3 tablespoons sodium metabisulfite and enough dye to get the desired brightness of color. All these ingredients should be mixed together and placed in a bottle with eighth inch holes drilled in the lid to act as a shaker bottle.
When removing the egg skeins from the fish be careful not to damage them. Once they are out of the fish gently work the visible veins and push as much blood out of them as possible. The next step is to use a scissors to butterfly the skeins open lengthwise. With the skeins spread open use the scissors to cut them into bait size chunks. For steelhead go with quarter or even dime size pieces, for kings you’ll want to cut chunks from golf ball to tennis ball size depending on your fishing style.
After chunking the roe coat each piece liberally with the curing compound on all sides and then place them all in a jar. After putting the lid on the jar rotate the mixture for five minutes and then put the jar in a cool dark place for 48 hours.
Once the waiting time has passed take the chunks of bait out of the jar and lay them out on a piece of plastic mesh or a piece of butcher paper to dry. You want pieces to become tacky to the touch. This generally takes about 24 hours. If you are in a hurry you can put a fan on bait and cut the drying time down to an hour or two. When the bait is firm and tacky put it in a clean jar or in a vacuum seal bag and pour in the juice from the original jar. Now it is time to put the roe in a freezer. In a regular jar it will last for a year. If you vacuum pack it, it will last for up to four years.
Now if mixing all those compounds together sounds a little too involved there are prepared cures on the market that come ready to use in a shaker bottle such as Pro-Cure’s Last Supper Egg Cure and Pautzke’s Fire Cure. In terms of total cost it is cheaper to buy your curing chemicals separately in bulk and then create your own mix. For anglers willing to pay a little higher price for convenience these prepared cures are tough to beat. Pro-Cure cures have been a favorite among guides for years, but Pautzke’s Fire Cure has made a major ripple on the egg curing scene. Not only is it super simple to use, but it is also infused with krill scent, which salmon and steelhead seem to love.
As a final thought it is probably wise to lightly sprinkle all of the eggs you cure with Pro-Cure Monster Bite. Monster Bite is a mixture of strike triggering amino acids that can turn a poor day into a productive one when dealing with adverse conditions.
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