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Written By: Cal Kellogg, January 22, 2014
Artificial lures have been around for a very long time, but it’s a safe bet that history’s first angler employed natural bait and that goes for history’s first trout troller as well. These days with all the high tech gear and state of the art lures that are available to us, many trollers tend to overlook natural baits, despite the fact that they work as well today as they ever have.
At times when the going gets tough or when big trout are the objective some of the best trollers I know reach for natural baits in the form of frozen shad, anchovies or herring and live baits such as night crawlers and minnows. Monte Smith of Gold Country Sportfishing is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Monte is a highly talented guide that spends his time plying lakes such as New Melones Reservoir, Lake Don Pedro and Lake McClure in the California Mother Lode.
For big rainbows and browns as well as husky landlocked kings, Monte’s number one offering is frozen shad. Here on the Pacific coast trolling or “rolling shad," as the technique is known among trout and salmon aficionados, closely mimics the way coastal saltwater anglers employ frozen anchovies and herring for tempting chinook and coho salmon. In fact in addition to shad, trouters often employ herring and anchovies too.
The term “rolling” stems from the fact that a properly rigged shad or anchovy will slowly roll through the water when trolled. Predatory fish like trout, are often in the presence of hundreds or even thousands of baitfish. Most of the time these baitfish are ignored because they are healthy and hard for the trout to run down. Yet, a slow moving baitfish that shows signs of distress is gobbled up in short order.
When a shad is rolled through the water, it puts off vibrations consistent with those created by an injured baitfish. From a visual standpoint, a rolling shad gives the impression of a disoriented shad minnow that has lost its ability to remain upright. Combining this with the vibrations a rolled shad creates and the fact that shad are the predominate forage in the majority of reservoirs, presents the trout with a series of cues that add up to trigger their feeding instinct.
“I soak the fresh shad I buy for trolling in brine overnight. Once I’ve brined them I divide them among several zip lock bags and freeze them. I add blue dye to some of the shad I brine. This way I can do some experimenting with color throughout the day as I troll,” discloses Smith.
Soaking baitfish such as shad, anchovies and herring in brine firms and toughens them. Some anglers brine their bait by soaking it in a solution of two thirds water, one third ice and one or two cups of rock salt. I employ the same basic approach to brining, most of the time, but recently I’ve started using Pautzke Fire Brine. The results have been outstanding. Let me give you the lowdown on this new product and how I’ve been using it.
The thing I love about Fire Brine is the simplicity it offers. To brine bait with Fire Brine all you need is a bottle of Fire Brine, a 1 gallon Ziplock bag and some quality bait, be it herring, anchovies or shad.
Fire Brine is a liquid that comes in a 32 ounce plastic bottle. It is available in clear, blue, red, chartreuse, orange and purple. Fire Brine eliminates, multiple ingredients and mixing. Everything you need is right there in that bottle.
What’s in the brine? I don’t know and the guys at Pautzke aren’t talking, but here’s what I do know. Since 1934 they’ve probably cured about a billion salmon eggs, so right there they’ve got an unmatched bait processing and preserving resume. When guys with a track record like that put their minds together and come up with a brining agent, you know there’s a high probability that it’s going to be the real deal!
Before I describe how to use Fire Brine, I should make the point that for top notch results you’ve got to start with top notch bait. Freshly dead bait that has been treated gently to preserve the scales is always best. Tray bait runs a close second and bag bait runs a distant third. The better your baits look going into the brine, the better they’ll look coming out and good looking baits almost always outfish so so looking baits.
If your bait is fresh simply put it into a gallon Ziploc, shake your bottle of brine vigorously, pour in enough Fire Brine to cover the baits (a half bottle will take care of one package of tray bait) and place the bag in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours. After that you can remove the baits from the brine, put them in an airtight container and keep them cold.
I’ve kept the brined baits for up to 72 hours with no problems. If I’m keeping them longer then that, I’ll freeze them. Bait brined and then frozen works just fine. You’ll want to partially thaw them prior to rigging.
If your bait is frozen, run water over the bait for a few minutes so you can separate them without damaging the scales. Place the separated baits in your bag and cover them with brine. At that point seal the bag and let it set at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours, allowing the baits to completely thaw. Then place the bag in the refrigerator.
There was a time when I only trolled natural colored baits, but I’ve come to realize that baits dyed various colors can be deadly. I still rely on natural colored baits the majority of the time, but I use blue and chartreuse baits a lot too.
As near as I can tell when using Fire Brine, maximum color absorption is achieved after about 8 hours. While extending the stay in the brine beyond 8 hours doesn’t result in bolder color it does result in tougher bait.
The color transferred to baitfish by Fire Brine is excellent. The entire bait takes on the color of the dye, but the natural flash of the baitfish is retained. The brines are also UV so you don’t have to worry about applying UV gel or spray to your baits.
To make your brined baits even move attractive to the fish you can add scent to the brine. Krill scent is always a great choice for salmon fishing. If you want to add krill scent to your baitfish, simply get a bottle of Pautzke Fire Power krill powder and add about a table spoon full to your bag of baits and brine. Gently tumble the solution to ensure all the baits are exposed to the krill.
In addition to krill you might also consider adding a few drops of either garlic or anise oil to your batches of bait. Anise works great anywhere and everywhere and at times landlocked kings flock to the smell of garlic.
I’m not finished testing Fire Brine yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, Pautzke Fire Brine looks to be the simplest and one of the most effective approaches to brining bait. The folks at Pro-Cure offer a similar product, but I’ve yet to give it a try.
Fire Brine toughens your bait and makes good bait better. If you choose to use colored Fire Brine to cure and dye your baits you can expect consistent rich color that does nothing to decrease the natural flash of the bait. Since Fire Brine is UV enhanced you can rest assured that the fish will see your bait no matter how deep you go.
Fire Brine is available at fine tackle shops throughout the West Coast. If your favorite tackle shop doesn’t have it, tell them to order you a supply of Fire Brine from the folks at the Pautzke Bait Company.
Properly preparing shad and other baitfish is only part of the equation. The real challenge comes in rigging them so they display the proper rolling motion when drawn through the water. The Pro-Troll company offers a small shad size version of their renown EChip equipped rotary bait holder that has earned so much acclaim in the world of saltwater salmon trolling. The Roto Chip size No. 1 is a half inch wide and is appropriate for use with shad or other minnows that are from 2 to 2.5 inches long.
For the uninitiated these plastic bait holders pinch on the head of the baitfish and sport a wing that makes them roll or rotate when trolled. The device is supplied on a leader sporting a pair of octopus hooks. The hooks are not hooked in to the shad, but rather trail along side the bait as it rolls through the water. Roto Chip holders come in eleven different colors, three of which glow in the dark.
“Bait holders are simple to use and there is no doubt that they will catch fish. Overall I think the plastic head is too prominent. The whole point to using shad is to present the trout and salmon with a natural bait. I think this goal is defeated when you add a plastic holder to the head of the bait,” Monte relates.
Monte ties a simple two-hook monofilament leader that imparts rotation to the shad, while allowing them to maintain a natural appearance. The leader consists of a 36 inch section of 8 pound test fluorocarbon line tipped with a No. 8 or 10 red-colored treble hook. Above the treble he slides on a small bead and then attaches a No. 8 or 10 red colored octopus hook on a sliding snell. To tie a sliding snell the first thing you must do is acquire a knot tying guide or go on the internet and find an illustration of how to snell a hook.
The sliding snell uses the same knot; the only difference being the piece of line the octopus hook is snelled on is separate from the leader. As the snell knot is tied the line is wrapped around the leader. When the knot is finished and trimmed you are left with the octopus hook attached to the leader in such a way that it can be slid up or down. If this sounds complicated, it is at first, but with a little practice it becomes pretty easy. I’ve seen some anglers simplify the process by using a pair of small rubber bobber stops to hold the octopus hook in place on the leader.
The octopus hook’s ability to slide on the leader is very important since this is what ultimately makes the shad rotate. This is how it works. Select a shad and imbed one of the treble’s points in its vent near the base of the tail. Next pin the octopus hook upward through the shad’s nose. With the two hooks in the bait, slide the octopus down toward the shad’s tail until a curve is created in its body. It is this curve that causes the bait to rotate.
One of the nice things about using this type of leader is that it allows the angler to experiment with the intensity of the bait’s spin. The straighter the curve in the bait the less it will roll, the sharper the curve the more violent the spin. You don’t enjoy this type of versatility when employing a plastic bait holder.
In the past, one of the advantages to using a bait holder was that they come equipped with an EChip for added attraction. Now that Pro-Troll offers an inline EChip it is a simple matter to slide one on a hand tied leader and let it ride up against the shad’s nose.
Monte is a big believer in using a Pro-Cure scent injecting bottle to inject scent oil into his shad and I am too. Herring, sardine, anchovy, krill, anise and predator scents are all great choices. I like to start out with baitfish scents before moving on to sweeter stuff like anise. The benefits to injecting scent are two fold. First of all the oil slowly leaches out of the bait and creates a scent trail.
Not only does this scent trail lead trout to the bait, but it also encourages followers to commit and grab the bait. Beyond that, when a trout strikes at the bait, scent and taste are released encouraging the trout to gulp it in.
Hello Fish Sniffers, Cal Kellogg here. We are out of space for now. Check out the next edition of The Fish Sniffer for part two! This article is a excerpt from my new book, Trout Tactics.
What is Trout Tactics? That’s simple, at 232 pages, 30 chapters and over 80,000 words Trout Tactics is the most definitive guide to conventional tackle trout fishing available!
Bank fishing with bait and lures, all aspects of trolling, using natural baits, lure selection and presentation, soft plastics, hoochies, dough baits, flashers and dodgers, slip bobbers, jigs, lines, hooks, rolling shad and anchovies, tackle considerations, identifying key areas, targeting trophy trout, stream trout, weather effects and so much more, it’s all covered in Trout Tactics. If you dream of catching more and bigger trout, this is the book for you!
Trout Tactics retails for $19.95. You can call (800) 748-6599 and order your copy directly from Brooke at Fish Sniffer headquarters and she’ll mail you out a copy!
possessed for use as bait in the Sierra and North Coast Districts.
By: Twofish on Feb 02, 2014
Nice article, very informative. Maybe you mentioned it and I missed it, but section 4.30 of the state regulations state: "Except as provided below, live or dead fin fish shall not be used or
By: Twofish on Feb 02, 2014
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