There’s nothing better than baitfish time in the spring
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By Bill Hanson  March 1, 2013 12:00 am

The Sportsman’s Report

Spring is baitfish time. I drove to Crescent City on the advice of the Mad River Bait Shop in Arcata.

They were spot on, as I caught Herring ‘til my arms nearly fell off. What a hoot it was; it was rare to miss a bite on each cast. I also learned Hawaiian throw nets are the way to go. Guys in boats, on the docks or on the rocks were throwing perfect spreads and hauling in pounds of herring on each cast.

One small boat had three guys, and they took turns with the net. They were at it for hours. I thought the boat might sink from the weight of their catch. The freeboard was down to about six inches when they quit.

I usually end up with the throw net wrapped around me. I can make a cast or two but my net was back home, sleeping in the plastic dishwasher bucket where it lives. Gary Basi, owner of Mad River Bait, runs a commercial fishing boat and said, “Fresh herring cured and frozen whole are the way to go. My customers get more salmon and halibut on fresh-frozen bait. I cure it myself, then freeze them in layers of plastic. When they are set, I put them in zip lock freezer bags.”

It took me five hours to fill my bucket. I used the P-line Sabinhi rig Gary recommended. It has a six-hook array with the right jig at the end of each hook. I did not catch six on a single cast but a few fives, a few fours and lots of threes and twos.

The little hooks are extra sharp. I had them stuck in my hand, on my pants and stabbed in my shoelaces, but I managed to chuck my line out and haul in plenty of fish.

No need to drive all the way to Crescent City to catch baitfish because Tomales Bay is excellent for that. The folks at Lawson’s post updates on action in the bay.

Right now jack smelt are in the bay, an excellent baitfish. Cure them whole and then cut them into ‘plugs’ and freeze them separated, same as Herring.

I went to the Salmon University online for a herring bait cure recipe:

In a cooler or bucket with a plastic bag-lined bucket, add two gallons of water.

It is best to leave the water out overnight to evaporate the chlorine. To the water, add three tablespoons of Mrs. Stuarts liquid bluing – it brightens the skin and scales.

Four cups of non-iodized salt. Stir in one cup of powdered milk, which firms up the fish without burning the flesh like Borax or other harsh chemicals. You can add scents to the brine if you like.

The most popular is garlic, and the juice from a jar of minced or chopped garlic is good. Some prefer two tablespoons of anise oil. Once the salt is dissolved, add the fish and cover or add a plate to keep them underwater.

This brine will cure four-dozen Herring overnight. Then plug cut them or freeze them whole in layers, then place them into freezer bags.

Be sure to sanitize the cooler or bucket after a wash with dish soap and warm water. Use two tablespoons of Clorox to one gallon of water. Mad River Bait shop posts updates daily. Call 822-3164 or call the shop at 826-7201.

Gary will give you updates on ocean fishing, and Don Nitti is the go-to man for steelhead fishing. Steelhead are having their best season in years.

Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.

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