If you’ve ever fished for salmon, you’ve probably heard of fishermen using salmon roe as bait. While it may seem strange to use the eggs of the fish you’re fishing for as bait, in certain situations using salmon roe works wonders. So what’s the deal with salmon roe bait anyways? Why do salmon try to eat their own eggs? And where can you buy salmon roe?
We’re here to answer these questions and more. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about salmon roe – from what it is to how to use it effectively. We’ll even include our favorite recipe for making it at home! Let’s get started.
What is Salmon Roe?
Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is salmon roe? Salmon roe is the fully developed egg masses in a female salmon’s ovaries. Salmon roe is orange/red in color and vary in size from five millimeters (for sockeye salmon roe) to one centimeter (chum and king salmon roe). It has a shiny outer skin with a firm texture. They come in large sacks called skeins that are used to hold the eggs together while developing inside the female salmon. Once the salmon is ready to fertilize her eggs, the skein will break and the eggs will come out individually.
Author Note: Roe contains many nutritional proteins (like omega 3 fatty acids) and is considered a delicacy in some cultures. Much like chicken eggs, salmon roe are un-fertilized until the salmon swim upriver to spawn. We’ll cite back to this fact when we explain why salmon attack egg roe when swimming upriver.
Where to Buy Salmon Roe Bait
Believe it or not, there are plenty of options that will be delivered straight to your doorstep! If you’re not convinced that salmon roe is a great option for salmon fishing (especially later in the season), keep reading to learn our favorite techniques and why we like it so much.
If you’d rather buy your salmon roe bait local, here are some other options you can try. If you’d rather make your own, keep scrolling for our recipe!
- Get some at your local bait shop. Almost every local bait shop near a river known for salmon fishing will have salmon roe. Just talk to the cashier or local workers.
- Commercial fisherman. If you know commercial salmon fisherman, you can often buy unused salmon roe from them. If you see fishermen selling salmon by the docks, ask them about roe.
- Alternatively, you can use beads to imitate salmon roe.
- Make your own! Keep reading.
What Does Salmon Roe Taste Like?
Salmon roe has a very distinct salty and fishy flavor. It’s commonly eaten in Japan as salmon roe ikura – a delicious sushi dish comprised of roe, rice, and seaweed. The eggs have a firm texture and pop salty juice in your mouth when you eat them. Good salmon roe also has a slightly oily texture. Sound kind of intense? It is! Many consider salmon roe an acquired taste.
Why Do Salmon Attack Their Own Eggs?
So why do salmon attack their own roe? This is a question scientists have been trying to answer fully for years. Most experts believe that salmon attack their own eggs because they believe other salmon are spawning in their rivers. There’s a limited amount of space in the river for salmon to lay their eggs, so any competition is a threat to the success of their own eggs surviving.
Author Note: Once salmon begin their spawning run, they become very territorially and aggressive. Their body composition actually changes, with the males growing arched backs and large jaws. With this transformation comes an aggressive nature and a tendency to lash out at anything bright that gets in their way. Salmon roe is bright in color which could also lead to running salmon attacking it out of irritation.
Where Can I Catch Salmon Using Roe?
As we discussed in our king salmon article, different species of salmon live all across the west coast and can be caught from California all the way up into Alaska. Depending on the time of year, salmon can be caught both from the ocean as well as inshore in rivers. When the salmon are in the open ocean, they’re interested in eating herring and other baitfish rather than roe. But once they’re spawning run starts and they enter freshwater, salmon roe becomes a viable bait option. This usually occurs starting in September and goes through November. The further upstream you fish for salmon, the more effective salmon eggs become as bait. The salmon that make their way upstream get more aggressive and temperamental, which adds to their tendency to lash out at roe. This is true for all types of salmon, from king salmon to pink salmon.
It’s worth noting that the longer you wait in the spawning season to catch salmon, the worse their meat quality becomes. As salmon get ready to spawn, their bodies begin to decompose and turn brown/red. This means that there is a trade-off for using salmon roe as bait. If you’re fishing for salmon to eat their meat, focus on fishing with salmon roe as early in the spawning season as possible. This is usually after the first big rainstorm in September or October. The rain signals the salmon to begin swimming upstream (there’s more water for them to swim through and past obstacles).
How to Make Salmon Roe Bait
Buying salmon eggs can get expensive, and if you fish for salmon enough you’ll want to start making your own salmon roe bait. It’s also a great idea if you end up catching a lot of salmon, as some will most likely have roe in them! You’ll never throw an egg sack away again after this.
Author Note: Salmon roe is turned into bait by curing it in salt, sugar, borax and food coloring. The curing process firms the eggs up and makes them more enticing for aggressive salmon.
Supplies Needed for Roe Bait
- Salmon roe from freshly caught fish.
- Pautzke Bait Fire Cure.
- One gallon ziplock bag.
- Paper towels.
Steps for Curing the Eggs
Before we get into the steps on curing your salmon eggs, it’s important to treat the salmon properly after catching it. Be sure to bleed it immediately and keep it on ice before cleaning and filleting. Aim to cure your salmon roe within 24 hours of catching the salmon.
- After you’ve caught a female salmon and bled it out, cut the fish down the belly to remove the egg skeins.
- In order to maximize the curing surface area, butterfly each egg skein to increase the amount of contact your cure will have with the eggs. This will also help the eggs dry faster.
- Place the butterflied roe skeins in your one-gallon plastic bag and add ~1/2 cup of Pautzke Bait Fire Cure. Depending on the type of cure you use you’ll need more or less than this amount. Check what the cure packaging says to do!
- Gently shake the roe and cure mixture to cover all surfaces of the skeins.
- Now it’s time to wait. Let the roe rest for at least 8 hours for the cure to work. After a few hours, you’ll see a colored liquid has been pulled out of the eggs from the salt. Do not drain this liquid! In a few more hours it will be sucked back into the eggs and give them their color/firm texture.
- After ~8 hours, your roe is ready to go! If you plan on fishing with them in a week or less, you can store them in your fridge. Otherwise, throw them in the freezer for later use.
Curing Without the Skein
If you’re planning on curing roe without the egg skein, you’ll need to partition them out into small groups with cheesecloth. Follow the same steps as above after you’ve tied off all your egg cheesecloth clumps. The cheesecloth will keep the eggs together in chunks and help with applying them to your hook.
How to Fish Salmon Roe Bait
Now that you’ve got your salmon roe bait, you’re ready to fish for salmon with it! Here are our favorite ways to fish with salmon roe.
Floating Bobber Salmon Roe Rig
If the river you’re fishing has a slow current, this is our favorite technique for fishing with salmon roe. You’ll need a 3/4 oz bobber, 3/0 hooks, a barrel swivel, ½ oz egg sinkers, 30 lb braided or fluorocarbon fishing line, and a 20 lb leader.
- Six to eight feet up your mainline (less or more depending on how deep the river is. You want your bait to be a foot or two off the bottom) tie a bobber stop knot and thread a plastic bead.
- Thread your 1 oz bobber on next followed by two ½ oz egg sinkers.
- Then tie a snap swivel onto the end of your mainline.
- Cut a two to three-foot-long leader out of your 20 lb test monofilament and tie onto the other end of the snap swivel.
- At the end of the leader, tie a 3/0 hook.
- Add a golf ball-sized clump of eggs to the hook and you’re ready to fish!
Focus on casting your rig into a deeper part of the river where you think the salmon are resting. You want your roe to basically hit them in the face and annoy them enough that they bite. When your bobber goes down, do not jerk your rod to set the hook! You need to let the salmon chew on the eggs and close its mouth. Wait a second then begin reeling firmly to set the hook. This setup works well for both king salmon and coho salmon.
Diver Salmon Roe Rig
Another great option for salmon roe fishing is using a diver. The diver salmon roe rig works best when you’re fishing in a river with a faster current. The flow of the river will force the diver down and get your salmon roe close to where the salmon are swimming. It’s also a bit simpler than the bobber rig. You’ll need a Luhr Jensen Jet Diver, a 3/0 hook, 30 lb braided or fluorocarbon fishing line, and a 20 lb leader.
- Tie the Luhr Jensen Jet Diver onto your main line.
- On the other end of the diver, tie a 4 to 6 foot long leader out of the 20 lb test monofilament.
- At the end of the leader, tie your 3/0 hook.
- Add your salmon roe, and you’re ready to go!
Fishing the diver salon roe rig is similar to the bobber rig, except you’ll need to check your bait more often to ensure it hasn’t fallen off. This technique tends to work better with storebought salmon roe or homemade roe with cheesecloth. The cheesecloth helps the roe hold up better in the faster current. The same rules apply when setting the hook: don’t jerk the rod and wait for a second or two before doing anything when you feel something on the other side.
Fishing with salmon roe as bait is often overlooked when considering how to fish for salmon. So much time and effort is put into picking the right color of lure or buying a certain kind of herring. The great thing about salmon roe (besides that it works quite well) is that you often get to make some yourself after catching salmon! We hope after reading this article you’re now confident to not only fish with salmon roe as bait but also to make some yourself.