Herring brine is an important process prior to cut plug fishing. The herring brine will stiffen the bait, improving its roll and the length of time that it remains undamaged on the hook. The brine will also improve the color and shine of the bait making it more attractive to fish. It is important to maximize your advantage over the fish when out on the water, this will put that one or two extra fish in your boat each time. Effective herring brining is one of the tricks that tips an advantage in the anglers direction.
I had a good discussion with one of the guys on my crew who has a major in biochemistry, about the scientific background on the herring brine process. I found the discussion interesting to understand what is going on with the fish and the roles of the different ingredients.
When a fish or any meat product is exposed to salt the area of higher salt content will tend to draw water molecules from the area of lower salt content. In the case of herring the water will be in the fish flesh and will be drawn out into the high salinity solution. This is what happens in herring brines, and in smoked salmon and other processes where salt brine is used. As the water is drawn from the fish this hardens the meat and preserves the fish. After bringing, the bait will last longer, stay tightly on the hooks, resist tearing and damage, and produce a better roll in the water. The use of brines as preservatives has been used for foods such as pickles, and in preservation of salmon roe for river fishing.
Herring is commonly available in frozen packages from a variety of suppliers at your local bait shops. You want to choose the size of the bait to match the local bait fish, and then once you decide on the size look closely at the bait before purchase. When checking the bait look at the packaging. Vacuum sealed herring are often in the best condition. The type of tray that the bait is on also is worth considering. Cardboard trays are being phased out because the frozen herring tends to stick to the cardboard. Plastic trays like you would find meat on in the supermarket are ideal. Once you find some bait, look closely at the bait to get an idea of how old it is. Some shops will re-sell last years bait until it sells out and then restock the new stuff and these shops you should try and avoid. Fresher bait is always preferable. You can tell old bait because there will be a lot if ice crystals inside the package. Also the fish may look in poor condition and its eyes may be cloudy. If you buy vacuum sealed herring, make sure to cut a hole in the package to depressurize it before it thaws otherwise the vacuum pressure will mush the herring as it thaws.
This is the easiest method to brine herring or anchovies. Take several packs of bait and dump them into a seal-able plastic bin and cover them with several boxes of coarse salt. Be careful with the fish and mix the salt all around. This salt will start drawing the moisture out of the fish and they will harden up really effectively. Keep the bait in this salt mixture the entire time you are fishing. We like to use this method when we’re fishing herring with teaser head setups. It is easy and foolproof. This is an ideal setup when fishing with inexperienced or young anglers. The result is a very hard bait that produces an effective roll for a long time in the teaser head. Since the bait is so hard it is a lot more indestructible and it will last in the teaser head much longer than the salt water brine method. Using this brine method, you will start to see water accumulating in the salt bin. As the water accumulates you can carefully drain it out and add more salt. You want to keep a nice dry container full of salt and hard herring baits. Rain will reverse the effects of the salt so be sure to keep the lid on the container.
The plain salt brine is also ideal for large herring that will be used for halibut or groundfish. This method will get these herring extra firm and this will prevent fish from stealing the bait and ensure more solid hookups.
The second herring brine method is the salt water brine. The salt water herring brine does not extract as much water out of the herring as the plain salt herring brine method will. This salt water herring brine method is what we use if we are fishing cut plug herring rigs because it ensures the herring retains the perfect form and does not become overly dried out. The salt and water brine also allows the addition of other products to the solution and these products then become infused to the herring. The other products include:
When these products are added to the water solution they have various effects on the bait fish. Bluing (laundry additive) will bring out the shine of the scales and make them look like they are fresh from the ocean. Colorings (eg commercial products from Procure or Pautzke, or food coloring) will change the color altogether, to shades like red, green, or blue. These may entice fish strikes from fish that are used to different colors of fish. Fresh ocean herring tend to be slightly greenish, while freshwater kokanee (food source for lake trout and others) tend to have sharply blue backs. Smaller rockfish or bloody damaged fish would have red colorations. Powdered milk and coffee cream has been added as a secret ingredient and these are additional chemicals that will increase the shine of the bait. Borax is a laundry additive that is often added to salmon roe as a preservative, it can also be added to herring and gives a soft rubbery texture. Scent products can be added to the mixture to enhance the scent stream coming from the bait. In general the natural herring oil from the fish should be enough to attract any salmon but you can experiment with other scents.
I like to brine up 3-5 trays of herring at a time this will last a few days on the water. First, find a suitable container that is sturdy, wont tip over, and ideally has a lid to prevent spills. Coolers are good as are various rubbermaid containers with tight sealing lids.
1. Into the container pour in the following ingredients:
This is all you need for the basic salt water brine mixture. At this time stir it up for a while so that the salt will dissolve into the water. Once the salt is dissolved, the salinity of the brine will be much higher than the salinity of the fish and this is what will cause the water from the fish to be pulled out of the fish and into the solution.
2. Once the mixture is all stirred up, add the bait
3. Timeline: If you need this fish for fishing immediately, then you will start noticing the effects of the brine in about 2hrs. The smaller thinner pieces will brine up faster than thicker ones. Ideally, allow the bait to remain in the brine overnight and it will be good to fish the next morning.
Brined bait will last several days out on the water. You need to keep it in a covered container to prevent rain from getting on it, rain will reverse the herring brine effect. Also keep it out of the sun and ideally as cool as possible. Herring, just like any perishable meat product needs to be kept cool.
Pautzke and Procure both make herring brine products that are available at your regular tackle shops. The products have different chemical properties and are effective at brining the bait. For me at present I am tending away from the commercial products because of their costs, but, having said that salmon fishing costs a lot and sometimes it is worth it to have every possible edge in your favour, in which case, you might want to try some of the commercial brines. I’ve attached a couple of videos showing the processes from Procure and Pautzke products.
I hope that you find this article informative. I’d like to know what you think about the use of milk powders or scents into your brine mixes in particular if there’s anyone swearing by it. I’d also like to know what you think of the commercial products out there.
Cheers and tight lines…FishinBC.
For more information on the commercial products here are links to their commercial websites.
Writing about sportfishing for salmon, halibut, lingcod, rockfish, snapper, prawns, and crab, with tips and techniques to catch more fish by fine-tuning specific details.
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