Curing eggs for salmon, sturgeon, trout, steelies

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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In case you missed it, the salmon opener on the Sacramento River above Knights Landing was pretty darned good last week. Combine that with excellent salmon fishing on the Klamath River near Iron Gate and sporadically good action on the Trinity River and you have your best shot in years at catching a nice king.
And if you happen to get really lucky and catch a hen, so much the better as salmon roe is one of the most productive baits on the planet.
It’s a great bonus to end up with good bait after catching such a hard fighting and great tasting fish!
Salmon, steelhead, trout and sturgeon all love the stuff but you have to cure it based on which species you intend to chase with roe. Here are some of the basics to get you started.
If salmon are your primary target, you’re going to want to fish with a salty cure. I’m not totally sure why salmon seem to prefer a saltier egg but you’re just going to have to take my word for it.
Plus, you don’t want to get me started talking about needing a slightly sweeter cure down low in the system and one with higher salt content as you move upstream. Maybe we’ll save the graduate course for later and stick to the basics here.
The best salmon cures are sodium-sulfite based and you’ll generally want to go with one that is bright red in color. Sure, eggs dyed pink or orange will catch fish but red is the number one producer. I know, it seems weird considering eggs in their natural state are a light orange in color, but again, you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.
Pautzke’s Fire Cure is one of the best commercially produced egg treatments you can buy (and it’s super easy to use). Just be sure you don’t use their Borax-O-Fire Cure as that’s more of a steelhead recipe. Pro-Cure also makes several good products but I’ve always found them more difficult to use. Other notables are Pro Glo and Sure Cure.
Trout and Steelhead
Now when you’re dealing with trout (sea-going and landlocked varieties), you need to use a cure that is more sweet than salty. Again, why that’s the case is a subject for another time...
You can buy a steelie cure like Borax-O-Fire or make your own. I like to mix 1 part strawberry Jello with 1/2 part 20 Mule Team Borax and 1/4 part non-iodized salt and then sprinkle onto my eggs and the lay them in a cool, dry place to dry on top of paper towels, changing them as necessary.
Or you can go super simple and just cut your skeins into bait sized chunks and then roll them in straight borax and go fishing.
Trout and steelies like natural colored eggs so you don’t need to add any dye though some folks like to add some pink or orange to their eggs when fishing in low light or murky water.
Salmon roe used to be the top secret sturgeon bait but the cat’s definitely out of the bag now. I have yet to discover an end-all sturgie cure but I have found that diamondbacks aren’t super fond of eggs cured for salmon ands steelies. For some reason, salt, borax and sugar aren’t their favorite flavors.
To that end, I have found that raw roe tends to be the best... though you can marinate it in one of several commercially produced sturgeon sauces to give it more meal appeal.
For more on egg curing and how to fish with roe, check out my online magazine,
J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate, whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. His column runs Fridays in the Journal.