A little while back I wrote about which is better lure or bait? Quite honestly nowadays I find it extremely hard to buy good bait. When I do, I buy heaps and put it away in the freezer for my school groups. At the same time while I am traveling around the state from one fishing spot to another, I find a lot of fisherman wasting perfectly good products. One prime example of this is our mulies which are not cheap by any means. How many of you have finished a day’s or night’s fishing and left the remains of a block of mullies behind for the seagulls? I know they get very soft and mushy after they have been thawed out for a while and do not refreeze very well but leaving them behind is not the answer.
Over the years of guiding, bait can become a major issue, especially when traveling. For example, if I were taking a group of ten anglers away to a remote spot like Dirk Hartog Island for a week’s fishing I would have to supply refrigerated space for food and drink and there would be no room for bait. If bait fishing was required we would just go and catch it. In places like that, a simple slice or popper would pick up a tailor or two or some other fish which may indeed be good eating. However, some would be of very poor quality for the table. Many of the tailor up that way are full of worms and I simply would not eat them and as they are such hard fighters, they do not release very well. Another species I like to collect is good size whiting as the fillets are great for breakfast and the heads and frames are great bait, especially for pink and north west snapper.
All right, it is day one and we have had a great day out fishing, we have caught a feed along the way and a whole heap of fish to process for bait. How are we going to keep it? Well, the answer is salt. By salting it down you will be able to keep it for the length of your trip and longer if needed as no refrigeration is required. The same goes for your left over mulies. White bait, blue bait and anchovies work better by a mile if salted rather than fresh. You can buy long life bait but, quite honestly, I have had better results doing it myself and the process is quite easy. So what do you do if you have a good size tailor around the 2 kilo mark? For starters you fillet it down and cut it into decent size cubes around 50 mm squared. You should also use the frames as a practical example of waste not, want not. Then we go through the salting process. We use the same method for mulies but we do them whole.
First, we get a decent bucket and cover the bottom with salt. I prefer to use the cheapest cooking salt that I can buy form the supermarket either in 1 or 2 kilo bags. The reason for using cooking salt is because it is nice and fine and seems to soak in very quickly. In the past I have tried butcher salt. It is cheaper again but seems to take too long to soak in and does not do the job as well. After you have a good covering layer across the bottom of the bucket, lay the product to be salted evenly over the salt and only one layer high. Then cover it with an even layer of salt and keep repeating the process until the bucket is full or you have run out of product. The last thing you should do is make sure the last layer has a good helping of salt.
It does not matter if you are home or away camping, your next job is to find a good spot to store for about 24 hours out of the sun like under a caravan, car or up a tree. My spot at home is the laundry sink. I once stored it in the carport until I found one of our dogs had taken a liking to it and, boy, did he have a thirst on him after. The next day you will find the product is covered in a yummy looking liquid, all you do is drain this off. You may have to keep draining the liquid away as it keeps building up but after a day or two it will stop and once this occurs, your bait is completely preserved. You can leave it in the bucket, put it in a zip lock bag or store it in a hessian bag. Do what ever you want with it, it will not go off or smell badly. I have kept mulies up to 3 months using this method with no refrigeration.
The properties of the fish change after salting and you will find the product will become very firm. With mulies you normally only get one cast with the fresh product but once they are salted you will get plenty of casts out of it. I have found on many occasions fish seem to prefer the salted product over the fresh one. What seems to happen is as the salted product sits in the water it re hydrates and in doing so seems to send out a little oil slick that attracts the fish. I have had great success with salted tailor for baldchin groper. On one trip to the Great Australian Bight a few years back when the mulie deaths were happening we could not catch a salmon on fresh bait but they sure loved the salted ones. With fish like mulies you will be able to cut them up into small pieces to place on small hooks for herring etc. I have also found that Moore River bream love salted baits.
If you leave the bait for too long and forget about it, all you will find is that it will just dry up, become crumbly and fall to bits. So throw it in the bin and start again. Other things that I have salted over years in remote places are things like cockles, mussels, squid and octopus. All these have kept well and produced fish. Hopefully, this has given you some new ideas for storing your bait for your next trip away. You can salt your bait at home or when you get there. One thing for sure is that if you do this you have more room in that Esky or Engel for the more important things to be kept cold, other than bait.
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