Cutting Your Own Bait?
Professional Preparation and Care of Cut-Bait
for use on the Great Lakes, or the Pacific Ocean
Home Salmon Busters™ Great Lakes Info Tips and Trix Capt. John's Log

Tools needed include a very sharp fillet knife, at a pair of scissors and a cutting board.  Products needed to complete the process is gallon sized Zip Lock bags, pickling, or Kosher salt and a box of 20 Mule Team Borax brand laundry freshener.  I've also seen the Borax named as a launder booster too.  Just remember you're not looking for any laundry detergent, if it doesn't look like the box in the photo #6, it's not the right stuff.

Please pay extra close attention to each step, because you'll 
reap huge rewards paid in full coolers and limit catches.

All photos on this page are thumbnails

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1. Sizes of Herring

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2. Green Label

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3. Opening the pack

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4. Breaking the seal

It's often been said, "the definition of luck is when opportunity meets
If you're anything like me, spending a few additional minutes to insure success is a must do.  Cutting you're own bait is both cheaper and from what I seen, far superior to the commercially prepared strips in a tub deal.  It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes (not counting the thaw time) to slice-up and brine 24 useable chunks of fish meat!

Photo 1.  Represents the different sizes of herring, Red Label (5" to 6") is the smallest I seen.  There's a size smaller called Orange Label and those herring are 4 to 5 inches.  Green Label (used in this demonstration) is 6 to 7 inch herring.  The next size up is Blue Label which is 7 to 8 inches.  Purple Label is the jumbo herring measuring 8 to 9 inches. 

Photo 2.  Is the size I prefer, or the Green Label which refers to the size of the herring, 6 to 7 inches.  Green Label retails for about 7 bucks at most retail outlets. If you  closely examine photo 2, you'll see the herring oil showing up as white lines on the bait fish.  Care must be taken as not to lose this magical ingredient, so do not wash this stuff off!

Photo 3. Shows the cutting of the package in preparation of thawing.  This an absolute must do!  Please, at all costs, remember to break the vacuum seal before thawing!

Photo 4.  Correct thawing begins by completely opening the entire package.  Failure to thaw correctly can cause the herring to dehydrate, as the juice is pulled from them.

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5.Thawing bait
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6. Borax
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7. Setting the scales
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8. Putting in the bag

Photo 5. 
This it the simple deal of letting the bait thaw for about an 1/2 hour.  I don't let it set out too long as not to dry the tail fins out, which will become a huge asset in my book.  Please take note of the faint white lines on the bait, that's the still frozen herring oil.

Photo 6.  
Sprinkle the herring liberally with a goodly handful of 20 Mule Team Borax which helps set the scales.  The scales is where the color, or shine is held.  You don't want to lose any more scales then necessary.

Photo 7. 
After the bait is covered with 20 Mule Team Borax, a matching handful of Kosher, or pickling salt is added.  This is not rocket science, so handfuls work for me.  If you feel it's a necessity to measure the ingredients it's a 1/2 cup of Borax and a 1/2 of the Kosher salt.

Photo 8. 
Then I put the whole deal in a gallon Zip-Lock bag.  Use only the high quality Zip-Locks, the extra pennies is worth then worth it. 

5/26/09 Update:   I no longer use a zip lock and found a pickle jar offers better protection.  With less chance of leakage.  This article was first penned in 2004 and need to update the storage method we're using now.
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9. Brining & thaw
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10. Slicing "B" side
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11."B" side is done
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12. Angle of 1st cut

Photo 9. 
This is the easy part where I add about 16 ounces of water.  Like I said, it's not rocket science.  I let the thawing process continue in the Zip-Lock for about a hour.  Keeping in mind, the scales are also being set even more tightly.

Photo 10. 
Before total thaw has occurred, I start the filleting.  I like the herring to be firm and not 100% thawed.  I think this helps in making a better fillet in the long run. I've done it when the herring are thawed too, but personal preference is slightly frozen.

Photo 11. 
This is the kinda tricky part, because you have to figure out which side your going to leave the tail fins attached to.  I call this the "A" side.  The "A" side perfectly matches the bait head holder then.  What I mean by matching is the fillet is right side up to the bait head and looks to some extent a little more natural.  The "B" side still works, but won't have the tail flipper.

Photo 12. 
This is the angle of the blade, before I turn the knife and slice down thru the herring towards the tail. This angled cut is made directly behind the gills.

Tip:   You must have a sharp knife to accomplish this task.  Remember to use the whole blade, by drawing the blade down and thru the herring, do not to drag the knife.  Use the full length of the blade in a smooth effortless cutting motion.

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