By Andy Couch | 07/28/2014
With another king salmon fishing season over on all Mat-Su Valley rivers and streams (except the Eklutna Tailrace fishery for hatchery salmon), bait fishing on most streams opened on Monday July 14. To most local salmon anglers, bait fishing is synonymous with fishing cured salmon roe, but with emergency king salmon fishing regulations in effect through July 13 at most locations many, if not most, may have had trouble securing an adequate supply of salmon roe to fill their bait fishing needs.
With the Kenai River and Kasilof rivers now open to personal use dip netting, and with the early arrival of chum salmon, coho salmon, and late-run sockeye salmon at various sport fishing locations throughout the Cook Inlet Area, fresh salmon roe should quickly become available to successful anglers harvesting fish.
Many Mat-Su Valley (which is north of Anchorage for you out of towners) anglers have been eagerly awaiting the opening of bait fishing on local waters, as it produces much better harvest rates. Now is the time to secure some roe and cure it for your own use.
Commercially cured roe is readily available at most sporting goods stores and may provide a start to catching salmon and securing an angler’s own personal roe supply. For experienced anglers, now that abundant July/August salmon runs are starting to show, harvesting roe from their catches quickly becomes a more economical method of getting bait and provides them with the freshest possible bait.
After harvesting a fish and removing the roe, fresh roe can be cut into bait-sized pieces and fished immediately. However, fresh roe is soft and is easily lost, especially when fishing streams with strong currents and rocky bottoms. In addition, fresh roe, if not treated or kept cool, will start spoiling; hence the need to cure roe after harvesting.
Many drying or preserving agents will work for curing salmon roe, and throughout 40 years of salmon angling I’ve successfully cured roe that caught salmon using borax, salt, sugar, Jell-O and various commercial cures. At this point, as a salmon fishing guide, I use Pautzke’s Fire Cure, which provides quality drying/curing agents and enhances the finished bait with krill scent.
Fire Cure can be purchased in a variety of fish catching colors including red, pink, orange and natural, although I recommend mixing the red and orange cures to produce a brilliant tomato-colored roe that holds its color for about as long as I want to fish the bait.
The Couch Cure
For a superior-quality bait that consistently produces salmon I use and recommend the following 6-step process for curing roe.
1. Bleed & Ice
After landing a salmon, immediately bleed the fish by cutting its gills. Then put the whole fish on ice to maintain salmon meat and roe quality.
2. Roe Removal and Storage
When harvesting and handling roe wear surgical gloves that keep both your roe and hands clean and free of unwanted scents. Fillet or gut the fish and remove the roe. Then store roe in a waterproof container and continue to keep it cool (on ice) until ready to continue the curing process.
With larger egg skeins cut the roe into bait sized pieces (the bait will shrink somewhat during the curing process so start with larger pieces of fresh roe than what you actually intend to fish). When curing smaller egg skeins (like those from early season sockeye salmon) curing the whole skein, all in one piece, and then cutting or tearing it into bait sized pieces later, while you are fishing, works well.
4. Applying the Cure
Put roe pieces or small egg skeins into a plastic bucket, and once the bottom of the bucket is covered with a layer of roe, entirely cover the layer with a generous powdering of red/orange Fire Cure. Continue the process with successive layers of roe and cure. After applying the last layer of cure, gently stir and agitate the roe and cure, by hand, until all roe and cure is consistently mixed. Let cure work for about four hours.
The roe and cure mixture will have produced a generous amount of liquid from the roe. After about four hours of soaking in the liquid pour the roe/liquid into a colander on top of a second plastic bucket to drain off excess egg juice. The juice (similar to Pautzke’s Nectar) can be saved, packaged and frozen for later use as a scent when fishing.
6. Drying/Packaging/Storing Roe
After draining off excess egg juice, remove the roe from the colander and place on layers of old newspaper to dry to as desired. Good finished roe should be somewhat firm, but still soft with enough juice inside to expel and attract the fish. Consistency should be somewhat like a Gummy Bear. Your bait is now ready to fish, but to maintain consistency, package the bait in an airtight container and keep it cool. If not destined for fishing in the next couple days, freeze the roe to maintain quality. Viola! You now have the good stuff that catches big fish!
Editor’s Note: Andy Couch owns and operates Fishtale River Guides www.fish4salmon.com and is a member of the Matanuska – Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission.