“I’ve never seen it done like that before!” It was a statement I heard over and over last summer while working at a fishing lodge in Alaska. Part of my duties included curing salmon eggs, a responsibility I insisted on. I’m picky when it comes to fishing eggs, even in Alaska. What caught me by surprise were the number of veteran egg-curing anglers who commented on my process. Most said they’d never even thought of doing it the way I did.I’ve been curing salmon and steel-head eggs for over 50 years, and my goal is always to optimize the color and texture of the end product. For five weeks last summer I cured several pounds of coho eggs a day, as they were the primary bait used by clients to catch silver salmon. Wherever upcoming salmon fishing trips may take you, save those eggs and try this curing approach.
MY EGG-CURING PROCESS starts by quickly killing each fish that’s caught and immediately snapping a couple gill rakes. You want the blood pumping or quickly flowing before it coagulates, which can compromise not only the meat, but the eggs as well. Once the skeins are free, cut an inch or so off the narrow end, making sure to remove all coagulated blood. One bad bait can ruin an entire batch, and having blood-free eggs to start with is very important. Next, force all the blood out of the vessels in each skein. With a paper towel, blot any remaining blood from the skein. Next, sprinkle a thin layer of egg cure into the bottom of a plastic or glass curing container, just enough to cover it. Last summer I used many brands, and settled on Pro-Cure’s Wizard Egg Cure in Double Neon Red and their Flame Orange Bait Cure. Clients could choose their eggs, and these were the ones they repeatedly went to day after day, and both produced high numbers of salmon all season long. Grip a skein at the large end, hold it over the curing jar and cut into bait-sized chunks. If the skein is small, simply start cutting at the narrow end, as this optimizes egg retention due to maximized skein being intact. The more membrane that’s intact, the firmer the bait will cure up and the better it will fish.
ONCE YOU REACH THE point on the skein where the baits become too big, cut up through the center of the skein that’s hanging down over the container; start at the bottom and continue to the top. This gives you two strips of skeins to now cut into bait sizes.When the layer of cure is covered with fresh cut baits, add more cure. Sprinkle just enough cure to cover the baits, as too much can result in chemical burns or hard discolored baits. Continue cutting and layering baits and cure until the jar is full or you’re out of eggs.Cutting your baits into the size you’ll be fishing does two things. First, it maximizes the surface area of each bait being cured, thereby optimizing their color. Second, it saves time when on the river. Fewer things frustrate me more than watching anglers fumble with whole, cured skeins when fishing. They’re messy and it wastes time. Instead of having to cut bait-sized chunks, clean the knife or scissors, apply the eggs, then wash your hands and work area every time you need a fresh bait, all you have to do is grab a pre-cut bait and get back to fishing. They’re already air-dried to ideal firmness, so there’s minimal mess.
WITH THE CURING JAR full, place in a cool, shaded place, like the corner of a shop or refrigerator. Rotate the jar every six to eight hours. There’s no need to shake the jar, as you want the cure to slowly precipitate through all layers of eggs. If you have a big container of eggs curing, you can gently roll them around on the final rotation to ensure all surfaces of the baits are covered in cure.After 36 to 48 hours, remove the eggs, drain and let air dry. I like putting them on plastic racks or a piece of plywood. Don’t put them on metal, which can taint the smell. Never in the curing process should eggs be exposed to sunlight, as this will darken them and weaken cell membranes. Once dried to the point where baits are tacky to the touch, they’re ready to fish. Keep finished eggs refrigerated for up to a month, or freeze for longer term storage. It’s best to cure eggs and then freeze them. Don’t refreeze eggs; the membranes may burst as they contract and expand in the thawing and freezing process, which makes them easily break down and fall off the hook when fished.
THE KEY TO ANY well-cured egg is starting with a blood-free skein. Next, cut eggs to bait size and cover in cure. Keep eggs cool and shaded and handle with rubber gloves if worried about contaminating them with oils from your hands.Remember that a salmon’s sense of smell is measured in the parts-per-billion range, so no precautions are an overkill when it comes to achieving the perfectly cured egg. -CS