Fishing bait is becoming more expensive all the time & in my opinion the quality of fish bait available is dropping also. Tuna & Pilchards are great bait but buying them these days is becoming a very expensive proposition & if you like to fish using a lot of berley & floating baits like I do it can add some real cost to a fishing trip. During the summer months around the Hawkesbury & Broken bay areas there are normally a few bait fish around that can be collected & preserved for use at a later time. Fish bait I prefer to use is Slimy Mackerel as No.1 with Striped Tuna & Mackerel Tuna as well as frigate mackerel No.2. Bonito are a very good stand by & readily collected. Tailor are OK if you are stuck but I think they are not in the same class as the tunas. The tuna family make good fishing bait as they have a high blood content as well as plenty of oil which provides plenty of smell for fish to locate it. Catching tunas for bait is a lot of fun & you will find a few tips on how to do it in my article on Striped Tuna in this article I will be explaining how I salt it for storage. Properly salted tuna fillets will keep for a couple years in the freezer no problems at all & heavily salted tuna is very good bait as well & needs no refrigeration at all. Any problems you have doing this or any questions just e mail me from my index page & I will help if I can.I find that salted tuna is even more effective than fresh as the salting process toughens it a bit & concentrates the juices so the bait puts out more smell in the water. The process I use is below but you will need to experiment a little as there are no exact quantities or measures. Experience will teach you the right amounts. Too much salt left on for too long will turn the bait dry & hard like leather, too little & it will be a bit soft. I reckon its better to lean to the side of too little if you intend to freeze it. Keep all your frames for berley & there is no waste involved at all.
Firstly fish for salting need to be freshly caught it is no good trying to salt old soft bait. You will need some tuna & for the salting process I use swimming pool salt as it is a lot cheaper than using butchers salt & is just the right coarseness. If you are stuck you can use table salt but it is a bit fine for this application. A good supply of old newspapers plus some freezer bags & ties as well & if you own one a vacuum pump for taking the air out of bags before sealing. A flat surface in a shaded spot is needed to lay the fillets on for salting.
Spread out news paper using a thickness of at least 4 sheets & over an area large enough to take all your fillets. The newspaper needs to be laid out this thick to absorb some of the juice that comes from the tuna fillets after salting. Spread some salt over the newspaper & give it a good even coating.
Fillet your tuna off & if the tuna are large (over 2.5 kilo) the fillets may need to be thinned down a bit. Try to keep the thickness about a maximum of 20 mm at the thickest section. There is no need to throw the excess away as it can be used for berley or salted & used as floating baits. Lay the tuna skin side down on the paper & continue till all fish are done.
When you have all your fillets laid out give them all a good coating of salt paying special attention to putting a bit extra where the fillets are thickest. Then cover them with newspaper in 3 or 4 sheet thickness. A few weights might be needed depending if there's some breeze about. Leave the fish for about 1 hour & during this period gently push the newspaper down on the fillets a couple times to absorb some of the juice coming out. After they have been there for an hour pat the fillets reasonably dry & brush off any excess salt then give them a light sprinkle with salt again & leave for another 30 minutes. Pat off the excess moisture & they are ready for bagging.
I normally store my fillets one to a bag & it is important to remove as much air from inside the bag as possible to reduce freezer burn & increase freezer life of the bait. This is where a pump comes in handy but whether you do it manually or with a pump make sure the seal is put on tight so no air can get back in. Pack them in the freezer & They will last for a couple years no problem at all. When they are ready for use they thaw quickly & if they are stored in a cool or cold place on the boat & not used they can be refrozen.
Tuna can be heavily salted & kept without any refrigeration at all. It is very simple & all you need is a bucket with a sealed lid & plenty of salt. Simply toss a couple handfuls of salt in the bucket then lay a couple fillets on it till the bottom of the bucket is covered. Toss a good thick coating of salt over the fillets then stack more fillets on top. Just keep doing it until the bucket is 2/3 full. After a time a brine will form & cover the fillets. Store them in a cool place out of the sun. Bait done like this gets a strong tuna smell & gets pretty tough but the fish love it. It is good if you are on a trip & stuck for ice but I prefer to use the other method when at home. reason being it takes a lot of scrubbing to get the tuna smell of after using this method. A trickle of the brine makes a great addition to the berley trail also. I have had a lot of success on snapper on tuna done this way.
Well that about covers salting tuna down & is well worth the effort of doing also. It is a great bait & when salted I feel it is superior to fresh plus collecting a salting your own bait can save you a fortune.