There’s a whole lot more involved in dead bait trolling than simply pitching a rigged ballyhoo over the transom and hoisting up the outrigger clip. Bait rigging is an art form and the best of the best make dead baits swim as if they were alive. Similar to how top tournament teams chasing meat fish go through exhausting prep work to catch and keep live baits happy and healthy, anglers who troll rigged ballyhoo and split-tail mullet must also take great care in preparing and caring for their enticements.
Brining is a method of preservation that enables your baits to endure extended periods of time both in the freezer and in the water. Depending on how you acquire baitfish there are a couple methods of approach to achieve the ultimate trolling baits. If you catch your own ballyhoo, mullet or mackerel and want to freeze them for future use there are a few simple steps that will greatly enhance their natural appeal.
If you catch your own ballyhoo, mullet or mackerel and want to freeze them for future use there are a few simple steps that will greatly enhance their natural appeal.
Simply icing your bait before freezing isn’t enough. Similar to how commercial retailers immediately ice their catch in a slushy mix, it’s important that all of the fresh baits you plan on freezing are immediately placed in a slushy solution.
Excellent brine mixtures are available from leading retailers like Bionic Bait, Baitmasters and Pro-Cure Bait Scents, but if you are in a jam and you can’t get your hands on a container of the pre-mixed products, you can formulate your own brine with a mixture of kosher salt, saltwater, baking soda and crushed ice. Keep in mind that it will likely take some experimenting to perfect the mix. Too much salt, which helps toughen the skin, and the baits will be too dry and stiff. A lack of salt and the baits won’t benefit at all. Of course, the mixture will vary greatly depending on how much seawater and ice you are using.
In case you are wondering, baking soda is added to help keep eyes clear and stomachs bright and shiny. It achieves this by thwarting bacteria and enzymes that enhance the decomposition process. Baking soda also increases firmness, but not nearly as much as the salt. When fresh ballyhoo are frozen without brining the meat actually expands and pulls away from the bones, which leads to mushy baits once they are thawed. Ideally, allow your fresh baits to soak in a brine solution for up to 24 hours before they are frozen or fished.
If you’re forced to purchase frozen baits, you can use one of the pre-formulated dry brines to help toughen them up once they are thawed. Although it’s always best to start with the freshest bait possible, look for frozen baits with clear eyes and natural color. Unless you are out of options, avoid purchasing ballyhoo with discolored fins and frozen blood or excess fluid in the vacuum sealed package.
Like the name implies, when dry brining it’s best to keep the baits away from water, particularly freshwater. The newest stackable bait trays work great, but many still use aluminum foil to separate baits from the layer of ice below.
Start by lining up your baits on their backs. The underside of baitfish is usually the softest part and the area that often washes out first. Sprinkle your dry brine over the baits the night before or a minimum of four hours prior to rigging. Keep in mind that if you overdo it your baits will resemble beef jerky and feature diminished swimming action. An even layer sprinkled across their bellies will suffice. The brine will eventually dissolve into and around the entire bait.
Troll warm water on a hot summer day and your brining efforts will really shine. Without baits that are pearlescent, durable and naturally appealing it will be difficult to keep a presentable spread that consistently entices fish to strike. You may catch a fish here and there without putting in the extra effort, but over the course of a few seasons you’ll soon notice that brining baits works wonders!