Hey Turkeys- I was lucky enough to be with the family over in Pagosa Springs for the Thanksgiving holiday. With elk and grouse in the rear view, I turned my attention back to some late season fishing.
I had had some good luck on the Animas earlier in November and was frequently hooking up with hungry slobs.
But two weeks later, everything has slowed down and so must I. It took a bit of adjustment and refinement but I eventually matched my presentation to the cold water temps.
The bite was slow but when the bows hit, they still fought me incredibly hard. I hooked up with a bunch of fish and enjoyed watching my wife's uncle land a beautiful Rainbow. I was having trouble keeping the fish on my line because of hook size and bait selection. I went back to my sure thing- smaller tackle rigged with a 2.5" watermelon pearl Powerbait minnow.
Due to the cold temps, the bite was slower, the fish were sluggish and I couldn't be very aggressive with my hook sets. This left me with a fair bit of guesswork and I lost many a trout to marginal hook ups. Is is he still there? Is he still nibbling? But stalling my hook sets also led to other problems when a beautiful fish decided to swallow my kit deep into it's stomach.
Fishing as often as I do, I encounter this problem frequently and have become fairly adapt with my tackle retrieval skills. When the hook is deep in the fish's gut, you need to work your hemostats quickly and carefully if you wish to remove the hook and prevent further injury. Bass are tough because they have teeth that'll scratch you up. Trout are tough because their mouths are small and they are hella slippery.
Many times, gut hooking a fish proves fatal. I'm sickened when folks just give up and cut the line. Choosing minimal effort for themselves and maximum suffering for the organism. I believe that not trying to remove a deeply impeded hook is a cowardly choice. You must be willing to confront life and death and bearing witness to the results of your actions is all part of the ethical sportsman's path. Gut hooked fish are a reality. It sucks and you must deal with the consequences. In this case, the hook was stuck in this fish and no amount of manual dexterity was going to save it. Eat her I shall!
Upon field dressing the fish, I discovered I had caught a pre-spawn female jacked full with eggs. Because using as much as I can from every animal I harvest is important to me, I immediately thought about how I could utilize the eggs. Caviar or bait? I've never prepared either with trout roe and I was excited, albeit a tad intimidated at the task ahead.
I field dressed the rainbow and put the filleted fish and the egg skeins that I removed in a plastic bag filled will water. Back at my brother in-laws, I youtubed up some Bait Prep Videos. I initially thought I needed to use a store bought, Borax based solution to brine and preserve the eggs. However, after many videos and articles, an unsuccessful trip to Walmart and much internal deliberation, I chose to keep it simple. Here's what I did:
Field Dress Trout as usual- I leave the head on and prefer to de-scale and stuff these tasty critters for baking. I placed leftover turkey day stuffing with lots of Kerrygold butter, two sprigs of rosemary and a generous slathering of lemon juice inside the fish- Place in oven preheated to 350 in a foil tent and bake for 25-30 mins. Meat will be flaky and moist when it's done and you'll be able to grab the spine at the neck and pull bones cleanly from your meal.
Take the egg skeins that you havested from the fish and place them in a ziplock bag with water from the lake/river you just took the fish from. Placing the eggs directly in water stream hardens them and removes blood and slime. I took this bag back to the house and put it in the fridge until I was ready to process the eggs- they should keep like this for about 24 hrs and would probably last a bit longer if you keep them cold and protected.
The following day, I purchased non-iodized pickling and canning salt from City Market. I prepped the work bench by spreading a garbage bag to work on. I gloved up and used a spoon to pull/scrape individual eggs from the blood sack (skein) that holds them all together. Some were easy to remove, some were more difficult. In the end, you will be left with a bloody egg sac that you discard and a pile of individual eggs.
Some eggs were still sticky. Some were still bloody. They adhere to everything! I rinsed them off a number of times to remove any last traces of blood. Next, I filled a clean container full of the canning salt. You need to load the water with enough salt so that the eggs float. Fill the container with your cleanly rinsed eggs and let the concoction be for at least 30 mins. I let it go about 3 hrs. and it was fine.
I then removed the eggs from the salt water container and rinsed them with clean water to stop the brine. I utilized coffee filters and paper towels to rinse and thoroughly dry the eggs. Finally, I added the processed eggs to a baby food jar, sealed the lid and placed the bait in the freezer. Be sure to put the freeze date in sharpie on the jar's lid- bait should last 3 to 4 months.
I'm so stoked to thaw these eggs out and slay it this winter and spring. Yet another rad skill to add to my hook & bullet ways.