By: Duane Inglin
If you’re an avid steelhead angler you probably fall into one of three categories. You only fish artificial lures. You fish bait, exclusively. Or, you utilize both and are neither a bait thug or a gear snob and utilizing different presentations to increase your chances. If you fall in the third category you’ve been known to tip your artificial lures with bait to create the best of both worlds.
Cured eggs and shrimp are the most popular baits for steelheaders and effective. However, eggs aren’t always easy to come by. Acquiring eggs can be tough early in the season. By mid season the eggs you had are gone.
Shrimp are a great alternative and productive. Similar to egg cure, with shrimp you have several options: sand shrimp, ghost shrimp, tiger prawn, coon shrimp, pink shrimp and cooked salad shrimp. Of these options, salad shrimp are easiest to prepare, most readily available and reasonably priced. Available in markets four pounds tends to sell for $10-12. This equates to about 350 shrimp.
Cooked salad shrimp are much smaller then most shrimp, which is okay. That can play to your advantage. The smaller size gives you several options to present and fish your shrimp. Not only are these shrimp available and reasonably priced they are simple to prepare. Curing them properly creates a durable bait that lasts and fishes well. Below we’ll cover three methods to cure and color salad shrimp.
Start by putting a couple handfuls of frozen shrimp into a container. Again, there are three here. We’ll demonstrate them simultaneously.
In container 1 sprinkle on Pink BorX O Fire. Container 2 is one bottle of Pautzke Red Nectar. Container 3 is Orange Fire Brine with Orange BorX O Fire. Three fool proof recipes and three colors. You can choose any color you want.
Steelhead like sweet baits. Therefore in container 1 I’ve used Pink BorX O Fire. I create a sweeter cure by adding a 1/2 cup of raw or white refined sugar to a full container of BorX O Fire. I also add 1 table spoon of Fire Power (krill powder). Let them sit at room temperature. They’ll cure as they thaw. In 24 hours they’re ready to fish. As the shrimp begin to juice stir them to ensure they cure evenly.
Container number 2 has the Red Nectar. For the amount of shrimp I have in the container I also added a tablespoon of salt and sugar. The amount you add varies depending on the amount of shrimp you are trying to cure. It doesn’t take much. A good rule is a tablespoon of salt and sugar for a half to cup of shrimp.
Container 3 is Orange BorX O Fire and Orange Fire Brine. I also added the same amount of salt and sugar as container 2.
All three methods produce bait ready to fish in 24 hours. I simply strain off the liquid and place each color in a separate container. From left to right you see the Red Nectar, Pink BorX O Fire and Orange Fire Brine/BorX O Fire.
Another option is adding is scent. In the Red Nectar shrimp I added anise while it was still in the larger container. The liquid helps to ensure all the shrimp are equally scented. The Pink BorX O Fire I chose not to add scent. I want these baits to smell natural. The orange container I’ve added krill and anise.
You can also get creative on fishing or presenting baits. Some of them I tie into a small spawn sack and add Pautzke trout eggs.
It’s simple. One brined/cured shrimp, a few trout eggs and float pills set onto a pre-cut mesh cloth.
Group together and tie with Magic Thread. You now have an egg and shrimp spawn sac that steelhead can’t resist. Shrimp/egg spawn sacks also work for summer run steelhead.
Salad shrimp is versatile bait that can be cured and fished different ways. Here is the egg and shrimp spawn bag that can be drift fished, bobber-dogged, side drifted etc. The jig is tipped with a single piece of shrimp. The size of the salad shrimp makes them the ideal size for tipping jigs. The simple drift rig on the right is a dual hook rig, cheater and a single shrimp in the egg loop. Bouncing along the bottom this will produce.
It’s time for me to get back to The Bait Lab. In the meantime, give these cures/brines a try. You’ll be pleased with the results.
Editor’s Note: Former guide Duane Inglin is the host of Seattle’s Northwest Wild Country radio. He lives on a lake and has a Bait Lab in his house.