By: Kim Anthony
I just finished a seminar about brining and dying baits for ice fishing and tend to get the same question every time. I get asked the same question online, too. People often ask me why it’s so much better to have bait that’s brined and dyed verses using natural bait. People want me to sell them on brining and dying bait. Keep in mind I don’t have to brine and dye my bait. I do it because it works. When I started doing this five years ago I didn’t even know who Pautzke was. I saw Fire Brine on the shelf and thought the brine could be a game changer – and it turned out to be.
Fast forward five years later and I still brine all my bait, and so do thousands of others. To be honest I don’t put any natural bait down beneath the ice anymore. Meanwhile, people have challenged me for years wondering if it really works. They want me to prove them wrong. I’ve invited many of these anglers to fish with me and we preform an experiment every time. I put my dyed and brined baits out and they bring their natural bait. We put them in a line on the shoreline and alternate natural vs dyed and brined bait. Most of the time I have flags up and they don’t. Then they want to use the brined and dyed bait.
Why this is so effective shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m trying to put bait down the hole that isn’t something they look at every day. For pike, and other fish, it’s a matter of curiosity. If you put something down there that they don’t look at everyday they are more likely to go investigate it. Then they can smell it and realize its food. It’s like a kid that walks into a candy store. They see a new candy and they want to try it. This is why I brine and dye my baits for pike fishing. It gets their attention. It’s something different, an eye catcher, something they aren’t seeing everyday.
Any predator fish will react this way to brined bait. The predator instinct is what leads them to the brined bait. They see something that’s nuclear looking below the ice and come in to investigate. That’s why the color is so important. The fish might pass by dozens of other things because it’s what they see all the time. For example, they may pass minnows just cruising the shoreline, but if they aren’t super hungry and desperate to eat something they might just pass those by. But, if they see something that’s different they are going to go investigate it regardless. It’s like that statement “sticking out like a sore thumb.” It applies to fish as well.
There’s a lots of places in the US and Canada where live bait is illegal. However, dead bait, such as smelt, herring, alewives and dead minnows are fair game. This process we are about to cover works for all these, and any other dead bait you would use. It also works on shrimp. Most anglers use whatever bait they can find locally. I prefer smelt and herring, but it can be tough to find sometimes.
Brining bait is super easy. The most important part of the process is how you start it. Having quality smelt or herring (or other dead bait) is a must. To end up with good bait you have to start with good bait. You don’t want bait that’s already freezer burned or anywhere the skin is falling off. Not even brine will make this type of bait look good. If you use poor bait you’ll end up disappointed. I prefer food grade bait because it’s top-notch. There’s big bait companies all over the place that sell this. Whichever bait you use let it thaw so the bait absorbs the brine. You can brine frozen bait, too. As the bait thaws it will absorb the brine and the color.
I prefer brining bait in Ziplocs, but some use Tupperware. Normally, I take six smelt or herring and place them in a bag. The smaller bags are great because then I won’t waste bait. I can use it as needed. Once you decide what size Ziploc fits your needs best pour whatever color of Fire Brine you choose and submerge the bait. The bait must be submerged (I am freezing the bait in the brine). The reason why I do this is because the baits will be suitable for long-term storage or available to use immediately. I have some bait that has been frozen in the brine and are still good three years later when I thaw it. The brine is the key to keeping bait fresh. It preserves them in the freezer and also beneath the ice.
This is the simplest process you’ll ever do. Let’s repeat: place bait in Ziploc, pour in brine and seal the bag. The brine works overnight. I brine bait the night prior to fishing and then they are ready to fish in the morning. Keep in mind, it’s important to let the brine work overnight so the brining agents are absorbed into the bait. Otherwise, if you don’t let it brine long enough the bait might change color, but not be brined, which means it will fall apart easier, the scales won’t shine and the bait won’t last as long.
However, there’s one more step I do before sealing the bag. I always add a squirt of Fire Dye. The reason I do this is because it brightens the bait and gives it bling. Fire Brine will color the bait. However, adding a squirt (not the entire bottle) gives it more vibrant color. You can see it work instantly. For example, if I use Pink Fire Brine I’ll add a squirt of Pink Fire Dye. Chartreuse Fire Dye works awesome with the Chartreuse Fire Brine. You can tell right away how strong the dye is. People think it might be more expensive to add the Fire Dye, but when you only use a little bit the bottles go a long way and a little makes a big difference.
Salt is an attractant for fish and there’s a lot of salt in Fire Brine. You don’t need to add anymore. Many old timers still use salted minnows and have forever. However, with brine you don’t need to do that anymore. The bottle is pre-filled with the best formula to brine bait. It takes the guesswork out of making your own brine. It saves time, money and a lot of mess. The brine is going to stiffen up the bait, make it firm, preserve your bait, add vivid color and be an attractant. It’s the complete package.
Another common question I hear is how long does the color hold in the bait? You don’t lose any color unless the bait sits in the water for a few days and few will let it sit there that long. The color isn’t going away. You are permanently coloring the bait because when the bait is dead the brine and dye penetrate the entire fish and the meat inside the scales.
After this process is complete your bait will literally be nuclear. They glow in the water like you have never seen before. You’ll be as impressed as the fish. This is the key to how I can consistently be successful in catching big pike. If you want this similar problem I suggest upping your game and using the Fire Brine and Fire Dye. It’s a definite game changer for the angler looking for a monster pike like I am and works on countless other species.
Another bonus of the brine is the higher salt content will help keep your smelt from freezing while on the lake, so make sure to keep them in the brine when not on a hook in the water. I’ve been fishing in 40 below (F) and the bait doesn’t freeze when left in the brine. You’ll notice they take a while to freeze in the freezer as well. This is normal. It’s because of the high salt content.
Another common question we get is what color is best? I find that they all work. Some days only the blue works, other days it is pink and then something like orange will be the hot color and you can never overlook chartreuse. Much of it is a reflection of the weather and water clarity. Is it sunny, cloudy, snowing, etc? Arrive with an arsenal and let the fish tell you what they want.
Editor’s Note: Kim Anthony lives to ice fish for big pike. She runs Ice Fishing Montana.