Brine up baits for spring trolling

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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When all this crazy weather finally settles down and the waters clear out, we are going to have some very good trout and salmon fishing coming up in local lakes. Kings and bows in Folsom and Berryessa are already good and they’re going to get better; Coho at Oroville should pop soon and rainbows and browns at lakes from Rollins to Scotts Flat and everywhere in between will bust loose soon! One of my favorite ways to get after all these critters in the early spring (summer, too really) is to troll shad and small anchovies. In some circles, you’ll hear this method referred to as “rolling shad” due to the fact that the way you rig the bait up causes it to roll or spin. When pulled through the water, a properly rigged ‘chovy or threadfin shad gives off tons of flash, plus you have the added benefit of an offering that smells like the real thing too… because it is! Good Bait The first thing you need to know about this technique is it is only as good as your bait. When you purchase frozen bait, be sure to get “tray” style baits — the kind that’s frozen side-by-side in vacuum-sealed trays. The loose, bagged baits are typically mushy and missing a lot of scales, which makes them a lot less effective. After you purchase good bait, you need to brine it up so that it stays bright and firm. Many folks have homemade brines that include stuff like salt, ice, distilled water, anise oil, powdered milk and Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing. While it’s fun to make up your own, let’s be honest here… who really has the time? Instead, I buy a pre-made commercial bait cure and simply marinate my baits in it. No mixing, no fuss, no muss. While several companies make such a product, I’ve had good success with Atlas-Mike’s Bright & Tight ( It’s a pre-mixed liquid cure that you pour over your baits and refrigerate for 24 hours. The next day, they’re done. The cure tightens the scales, firms the flesh and adds a nice shine. It’s also filled with some sort of bite stimulants, so the baits give off a massive scent trail. I generally use the natural Bright & Tight but there are times the blue and red also work in our waters. When you go out fishing, be sure to keep your baits cold… mushy, warm shad don’t fish well! Rigging Up Okay, so the next thing you need to do is learn the sliding snell knot (YouTube it for plenty of demonstrations). This knot features a treble hook at the end of the leader, with an octopus style hook up a few inches. The forward (octopus) hook is tied so that it can slide up and down the line with a little pressure. The idea here is you run one point of the treble (size depends on the size of your bait) into the wrist of the fish’s tail. Then, the point of the single hook goes up and through the bait’s nose so that the point is riding up. Then, you put a slight bend in the bait by holding the octopus hook and gently pulling the leader. Put the bait in the water next to the boat and check its action. You’re looking for a nice tight spin. Now, before you start fishing, be sure you have a quality bead chain swivel 12-18 inches ahead of the bait. Since the shad or anchovy will be spinning, you need a swivel to keep the line twist to a minimum. Now, you just troll as you would with spoons or spinners. You’ll have to try to figure out what the pattern is each day – sometimes the fish want a dodger or set of flashers ahead of the bait. Other times, they prefer it “naked.” What you’ll find when fishing with cured baitfish is you will catch fish when all other rigs fail… and they often tend to be on the larger side! J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at