By Josh Choronzey | 02/02/2015
It’s curing season in the Great Lakes and a perfect time to recap how to cure winter steelhead skeins. This method is effective everywhere in the Great Lakes and can be used on the West Coast, too, even though most anglers out West fish pieces of skein. There are many ways to cure eggs. I like this cure because it’s fast and can get me fishing again quickly. Others use processes that take more than a day. Those work, too, but the below method works great for me.
The first key to good cured eggs is the egg itself. It’s important to know that very immature eggs in the skein may not cure that well if you scrape them off the membrane. These young eggs will break apart and look like creamed corn. Also, ripe/loose eggs are very hard to cure because they have a solid shell and will not accept a cure. Winter steelhead eggs (December-March) that are in the skein scrape easily and cure the best.
There are many other factors that contribute to a quality end result. I use Pautzke BorX O Fire exclusively for steelhead. The cure works great, but the eggs must be in good shape to start with to be a viable curing product. Consider the following points and you’re on the path to a good, cured egg.
*Bleed your egg-laden fish immediately after you kill it
*Remove the skeins, do not let water touch them
*Take the eggs home and scrape the eggs off the membrane with a spoon
If you follow the following steps properly you’ll come up with great looking eggs. Mind you, if you deviate from the steps laid out, the eggs will not turn out as they should. The steps to curing and creating the perfect bait are so simple it is silly. Here is my how to procedure to serving up some fine steelhead baits for the early season here in the Great Lakes.
I lot of guys on the West Coast like curing eggs and fishing whole skeins. Meanwhile, here in the Great Lakes we scrape our eggs. What this means is we want to get the eggs that are tight to the membrane into a single form off the skein. The easiest way to accomplish this is to take the skein while there’s still some moisture on it and massage the skein with a spoon. You’ll want the membrane, which is holding the eggs together, to face you and the eggs touching the paper towel. Then I’m going to rub the membrane with the back of the spoon, which releases the eggs from the skein.
Once I start scraping them off I transfer them to paper towels and file them into a single layer. This takes some of the moisture and blood off. Although you will get the odd clump at this point the eggs will now be in a single form.
Note: Others use a screen to remove the eggs from the skein. See Kyle Buck’s technique here https://www.pautzke.com/fireblog_read.php?read=99.
Now that we have the eggs off the skein, I’m going to explain how I like to cure them with Pautzke’s BorX O Fire. BorX O Fire comes in an array of colors and the great thing is you can mix and match your colors to produce whatever lethal combination your local river likes. I use several of the colors, but natural is one of my favorites.
Curing these eggs with this cure does several things. It’s going to set the egg, make them less sticky to tie, provide them with bite stimulants, drive the fish crazy and on top of that these eggs are going to last in your fridge for months.
I start by taking a spoon and filling it with the cure before sprinkling the cure on the eggs, just as you would sprinkle strawberries with sugar. Ideally, you want all the eggs in the batch covered in the cure so feel free to spoon them around to ensure each egg has enough cure on it. You don’t need much, but feel free to apply more if there are eggs that haven’t been exposed to the cure yet. Keep in mind, this is a borax based cure, so you can’t ruin the eggs like you can with a sulfite based cure (like FireCure). BorX O Fire is more forgiving.
It will look like white on the eggs, but this natural cure is going to do what I want it to, which not dye the egg at all. I use natural when I’m fishing low and clear water and want to give the eggs a natural presentation. Natural eggs are best when the water is on the drop and we aren’t looking to fire up the fish too much.
Once the eggs have been sprinkled, I allow them to air-dry further on paper towel. You will notice that the shells on the eggs begin to toughen up. Depending on how moist the eggs are and how much cure you added, the drying process my take up to an hour, but normally takes 20 minutes.
It’s time for the finger test. Once the eggs appear to be “dry”, you can roll them around with your fingers to see if they are no longer sticky. If I pick them up with my fingers and they aren’t sticky, they are ready to tie. If they are still sticky, leave them for a few more minutes and let the cure work longer.
Do a simple test. Trying to grab single eggs that have just been scraped off the skein. They’ll stick to your fingers. Eggs that have been sprinkled with cure wont. It’s really hard to tie bags when the eggs stick to your hands. Sticky eggs are not what you are looking for with this process. I like a dry egg for my steelhead. Once they are dry, I transfer the eggs to small Ziplocs as the curing process is now done. At this point, I begin to tie my bags.
A lot of the processes you see on the West Coast, and even in the Great Lakes, might take a day, might take 24 hours and even 48 hours, but this technique after you scape the skeins cures eggs very quickly. You’ll also use less cure mainly because the eggs are now in single form, without the membrane, which soaks up a lot of the cure. Since you aren’t curing the membrane rather single eggs off the skein, the cure works much quicker.
When the water isn’t crystal clear and dropping I’ll cure up batches in Pink BorX O Fire. These eggs are going to accept the cure really nicely. They are going to be hot eggs and will fire up steelhead that have come in fresh from the lake. Fresh steelhead in the fall and winter are suckers for pink eggs. The eggs will start to take color within seconds of getting the cure. Orange and pink can also be used in these conditions.
One of the great things about this cure is it works quickly and you can fish it for three months out of your fridge. If your eggs start to look a little bit wet over time I open the Ziploc (which I store them in) I pull them out, dry them on a paper towel, add a bit more cure and they are still good. The great thing about that is you aren’t wasting eggs in the freezing and thawing process.
Time To Tie
Now that the curing process is done you can put them in the fridge and tie them later or do the tying now. It’s time to learn to tie bags for Great Lakes steelhead. Redwing Tackle makes scarf and spider thread material, but for tying scarf material I like Atlas stretchy thread called Magic Thread. It has a little bit more grip and you can do a half hitch knot with it.
For dyed eggs I use Redwing Scarf material in a champagne and white. Start by grabbing a little pinch of eggs, dime size is best. Place the eggs into the mesh (scarf) and then pull the scarf between your fingers. Now, tighten it up and grab your thread, pinching it between your fingers. Wrap the thread around the scarf three times before tying a half hitch. Finally, use a scissors to cut it off.
For early season steelhead, I tie my Natural BorX O Fire eggs in Redwing scarf material. I like the natural cure because the steelhead I am targeting are keying in on eggs fresh off the redd. However, pink, orange and red colored eggs come into play in winter and in high stained waters. My “bags” usually only incorporate a few eggs (say 6-12 winter steelhead eggs) in order to keep my presentation on the minimal and realistic.
I tie bags in peach, white and soft pink scarf. These eggs can withstand the abuse of the heavy flows I fish them in. I do not have to worry about breaking eggs and having to re-bait on a regular basis.
Editor’s Note: Josh Choronzey lives in Ontario, Canada, and has been catching steelhead since he could walk. For a video detailing the entire above detailed process please visit http://youtu.be/XF98h_zaW-8.