I've been asked to give folks my "secret" brining recipe for bait (herring, sardines and anchovies) that I use on some of my salmon trips. On my page, "gear we use", I recently posted my favorite conventional tackle rigging for spring chinook. This is how I prepare my bait for use with the Rogue Bait rigs discussed in that post.
"You can't make a silk purse out of sows ear" is the old saw that also applies to any bait. If you don't start off with the highest quality bait you can get your hands on, there really isn't much that you can do to improve it. When I run conventional tackle trips for fall chinook, I ALWAYS make the effort to obtain FRESH bait. Frozen works, but fresh is best. If the bait pens at Umpqua bait in the Winchester Bay boat basin are open and have fresh bait, go there before you go out and buy a couple dozen fresh sardines if they have them, otherwise fresh herring will do just fine. After you've purchased your bait, simply place it in the brine solution described below. Even after a short period of time this solution will begin to toughen up your bait, help hold the scales in place and cover any potential unnatural odors.
Normally during spring salmon season in my area, there isn't any place to get fresh bait so I have to use frozen. When it comes to frozen, vacuum packed is way better than bait that's just frozen and covered in sealed plastic. I look for baits that are uniform in color and have little or no frost anywhere on them. With anchovies you also want to look the baits over real closely for bellies that are split open. These baits won't hold up.
Once I've purchased my baits, I keep them frozen until I need them for a trip. I don't want them to thaw at all until their placed in the brine and then I want them to thaw as slowly as possible.
1. Clean plastic container with a lid that closes securely. I use a pepperoni container that you see in convenience stores, but any plastic container with a lid will work.
2. Distilled Water (approx. 1/2 gallon) Don't short cut this and use tap water or well water if its treated of has chlorine.
3. Pickling Salt (1 1/2 cups) Rock salt will also work but its a little harder to get fully dissolved.
4. Mrs. Stewart's laundry bluing. (10 drops) This will put a great sheen on your bait.
5. Pure natural Anise Oil. I buy mine at a health food store. It's expensive (about $10.00 an ounce) but there is no alcohol or other additives. I add about 3-5 drops to the solution.
I combine approx. 1/2 gallon of distilled water with the salt, laundry bluing and Anise oil. Stir the solution until the salt is dissolved.
It will look like this.
I place the solution in the refrigerator to get it cold. You can also place it in the freezer to get it really cold as well. If it gets cold enough it will begin to take on a semi-oily viscous appearance.
The night before my trip, I place my frozen baits in the solution and return it to the fridge. In the morning I grab my baits and head out. Try to keep the baits and solution as cold as you can through out the day. I figure on using 3-6 baits per rod, per day. Obviously if you get into a good "bite" you'll burn through more bait.
I also recommend using latex gloves when reaching into the brine and handling the bait, not only to keep my funk off the baits, but also to protect my hands from the salt in the brine, it will really dry out your hands and cause them to split if your doing this all the time.
This brine will keep your baits tough and shiny and VERY attractive to salmon all day!