Selecting and Brining Herring for Alaska Salmon Fishing

By on February 11, 2011

Ketchikan King Salmon Fishing

Jerry’s 32 lb King Salmon

One of the most common and effective ways to fish salmon is using a cut plug herring. Why a cut plug? – Simply because it’s easy to get a good spin, you can change the spin with the cut angle, it’s easy to rig, and it works well for both trolling and mooching. I have tried all the “latest gadgets” and new fads over the last 30 years while salmon fishing, but I always go back to a cut herring. Did I mention this is what salmon typically eat in the wild anyway?

Choosing the bait is critical. Salmon like fresh herring best but if not available then purchase a high quality frozen herring that still has the scales on and doesn’t have red eyes (opaque eyes are OK). Stay away from vacuum packed herring, every tray I’ve tried has been soft with loose scales and just falls apart while salmon fishing. Frozen trays of herring come in several common color coded sizes: Red-small, Green-medium, Blue-medium large, Purple-large and Black-Extra large. In Southeast Alaska I find that the greens and blues accurately represent our herring populations, so that’s what I use. I’m not saying that salmon won’t hit a bigger herring but remember your hook to meat ratio will be lower and you’ll get fewer hook ups per strike.

Brining the bait is essential if you’re using frozen herring and you want it to stay on the hook. Brined herring will start to harden within an hour and will keep refrigerated for a couple days. Here is my top secret basic brine that I use on good quality bait at our Alaska fishing lodge:

1-Gallon sea water and 2 cups pickling salt. Yep that’s it.

If you don’t have access to good quality bait then try this common method:

1-Gallon sea water, 2 cups pickling salt, 1 cup powdered milk to firm the meat, and 2 tablespoons Mrs. Stuarts bluing to give it a shine. You can also add 2 tablespoons anise or garlic oil for scent.

If you’re using tap water double the salt (don’t use chlorinated tap water). I like using fine grained pickling salt because it absorbs into the water and therefore the herring faster than rock salt.

We carry the best frozen herring available for salmon fishing at our Alaska fishing lodge and brine them up fresh every morning.

Stay tuned for more posts on how to cut and rig your herring for salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska.

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