When you’re fishing for king or coho salmon, often times the smallest difference in your bait presentation can be the difference between a fish in the boat and getting skunked. Many anglers know that using plug-cut herring can be effective, but few know that brining them first can be even more killer. So do you know how to brine herring for salmon fishing?
You will soon! In this article, we’ll share our secret recipe on how to brine herring for salmon fishing. Many guides in the Pacific Northwest use a variation of this recipe, and it has been a tightly kept secret among some of our friends.
The main reason why you want to brine your herring is so they last longer on the line. This means less time with your hooks out of the water and fiddling around switching bait. As everyone knows, you need to have hooks in the water to catch fish.
Author Note: We’ve changed a few variables over many years of fishing off the Oregon coast and are very happy with the results. And brined herring doesn’t just work off the Oregon coast – we’ve caught salmon off the Californian coast and in Alaska using this recipe too.
Let’s dive in!
- 5-gallon bucket
- Large wooden spoon for stirring
- Several dozen herring (fresh preferred, but frozen works too)
- 8 cups of distilled water
- 1 cup of sea salt
- 3 tablespoons of dehydrated milk
- 2 tablespoons Mrs. Stewarts Concentrated Dye
- 4 tablespoons of borax
It’s a pretty simple recipe and process – follow these steps and you’ll have guide ready herring in no time. Just make sure to combine everything in a space where you aren’t worried about making a bit of a mess. We recommend using your garage or backyard to mix the ingredients and clean your herring.
- Mix all of the ingredients in the 5-gallon bucket until solid dissolve.
- Plug cut your herring and clean them. If you want to learn how to do that, check out our meat rig guide.
- Cover the bucket and store it somewhere cold and dark. If you can fit it in your fridge, do that!
- We like to store them at least 24 hours, but you can do as little as 12 and as much as 72 depending on where you store the herring.
- You’ll know they are ready to go when they are stiff and hold their shape.
- Dump the excess brine down the sink/drain and pat your freshly brined herring dry with paper towels.
- If you plan on using your herring the same day, you can skip that step and take them straight from the bucket and onto your salmon rig!
Why Should You Brine Your Herring?
Many first-time salmon fishermen wonder why you want to brine your herring? Do salmon like their fish salty? The answer is that brined herring holds it shape better and will last longer when you troll with it.
The whole point of plug cutting your herring is so they get the proper action to attract salmon. Plug cut herring will spin in a slow circle if prepared correctly. This imitates a wounded baitfish that salmon find irresistible.
When you let the cut herring sit in saltwater, the salt draws out the moisture in the herring’s meat which causes it to go stiff. This means that it will hold up to the resistance of the water for longer, allowing you to use less bait and save time and money.
Author Note: This is especially important for the ‘mouth’ of the plug cut herring, as the opening is what gives the bait its circular swimming action. Which is what salmon go crazy for.
It’s really worth it!
What Kind of Salt is Used for Brining Herring?
You can pretty much use any type of salt when brining herring. All salt will draw out moisture from the herring and make them go stiff. We recommend using sea salt since that will be the most natural smelling or tasting for the salmon.
Sea salt also tends to be the most affordable and readily available type of salt. What we don’t recommend using is road salt or any salt with added chemicals to it. Road salt tends to have added chemicals and coloring to it that will seem foreign to hungry salmon.
Salmon have a very sensitive sense of smell, and bait that smells weird to them will be less enticing.
How Long Will Brined Herring Last?
Brined herring will last up to 2 or 3 times longer than normal herring in our experience. Often times the first part of the herring to degrade is the inside of the plug cut part where the insides used to be. When you brine herring, this part of the fish loses the most moisture and becomes much more durable.
This means that the spinning action of the herring will last much longer than with fresh herring. Which is exactly what you want when fishing for salmon!
Do I Have to Use Dye?
The short answer is no, you definitely do not have to use dye if you don’t want to. The natural coloring of the herring may degrade a bit depending on how long you let them brine. But the scent and taste are more important to salmon.
We like to use brine because it helps the salmon see the herring from farther distances underwater. When you are fishing for king salmon, sometimes they are spread out and you have to cover a lot of water to get your bait in front of them. Adding dye to your brined herring will help hungry salmon see the bait from farther away.
Why Should You Use Distilled Water?
You want to use distilled water when brining herring for salmon fishing because it will taste the most neutral to salmon. Remember, salmon have a very acute sense of taste and smell. So if you use tap water that has remnants of soil or other minerals in it, salmon may be able to detect it.
You want to make sure your herring looks, tastes, and smells as natural as possible. If you only have tap water to use for your brining, you should be fine. We do recommend quickly rinsing your brined herring in an anise scent or fishing oil to help cover up any foreign smells.
This is usually a good practice no matter what type of bait you are using.
Can Brined Herring Go Bad?
The short answer is yes, brined herring can absolutely go bad! We recommend using brined herring for fishing within a week of brining it. As we mentioned before, the optimum amount of time to leave herring in brine is 24 to 72 hours.
You should then aim to use it within one week of brining. Be sure to store it in the fridge! If you want to keep it for longer, you can also freeze your brined herring. This will allow it to last up to 6 months longer.
But remember, the older your herring is, the stranger it will smell to the salmon. Which means they might second guess whether they want to risk biting it. The moral of the story – use freshly brined herring for the best results!
What Kind of Salmon Can I Catch with Brined Herring?
The two main types of salmon you can catch with brined herring are king salmon and coho salmon. These are arguably the two most desirable species of salmon, and are both commonly found on the northwest coast of the united states.
King salmon are the bigger species, with large king salmon growing over 30 lbs. Coho salmon tend to be smaller, topping out around 15-20 lbs. Coho salmon often school in much larger numbers than king salmon, however, which means they can be a blast to catch when you hit a school.
Depending on where you are fishing, you can also catch other species of salmon with brined herring. We’ve had friends have great success fishing brined herring for pink salmon, large cutthroat trout, and even chum salmon when they had extra bait.
It’s a great option for pretty much all species of salmon!
There you have it! That’s everything you need to know about how to brine herring for salmon. We’ve been using variations of this recipe for years, and are confident it will help improve your chances of catching a trophy salmon.
Cut plug herring is probably the most effective way to catch both king and coho salmon, but if you want to learn you should check out our guides on trolling for salmon with downriggers and trolling for salmon without downriggers. Both guides will give you even more detail on how to catch fish.
Have more questions about how to brine herring for salmon? Feel free to drop us a note in the comments below. We’ve probably fished for salmon more than any other species and would be happy to help you do the same.