I'm brining bait for the first time and wanted to post how I'm going about it for anyone who wants to try it or to get any input from those who have tried it before.
Since bait can be scarce at times, I wanted to catch it when it's plentiful and preserve it for later use. After a great deal of googling and reading, I decided that brining, vacuum packing and freezing would deliver the best results. This is essentially the same method that the bait suppliers use. The ones that make a quality product anyways.
Just like your steaks and fillets, if you simply bag and freeze your bait, after a short time, it will get freezer burn and the quality will be poor. Enzymes will also continue to degrade the bait which will reduce the quality of the texture, aroma and color.
Brining will preserve the bait by lowering the water content and retarding the enzymatic actions. The result is bait that will look good, smell good and taste good (to a fish anyways) even after longer periods of freezing.
To further extend the shelf life of the bait, I decided to get a vacuum packer. I also googled this a lot and read a ton of reviews. It was worth the effort because these things don't appear to all be created equal and the Foodsaver I got has performed flawlessly. I also bought the higher quality Foodsaver bags. They are a little more expensive, but I think they will be worth it in the long run. I was being reasonably careful and the pins on my pinfish still went right through one of the bags.
There are two different methods of brining: wet brine and dry brine. Technically speaking, dry brining is curing. I used to raise hogs and I've cured a good many pounds of hams and bacon, brining is how you make corned beef. Now that I've got that off my chest, I'll stick to the same names that all the other articles use. Wet brining is soaking your bait in a cold salty mixture, dry brining is dusting the powder directly on the bait. Dry brining baits is done just prior to packaging and freezing or just after thawing. This will certainly toughen the bait and make it last, but over doing it would make it like a piece of jerky.
Brine is a mixture of brining powder, saltwater and ice. When the ice is added to this extremely salty mixture, the temprature drops dramatically. This is the same reaction as when you make ice cream and put rock salt on the ice. When you have the mix right, the brine is painful to put your hand into for more than a few seconds. When you drop live bait into this mix, they die almost instantly and the preservation begins. On a side note, mixing seawater and ice will create the same supercooling affect and will keep your catch a lot longer.
The most important part of all this is what to mix and how much. The brine powder is simply a mixture of salt and baking soda. The salt preseves and toughens the bait while the baking soda halts the enzymes that break down the meat and degrade the color. Some brining powders claim proprietary additives. If anyone knows what these are and what they do, please let me know. I am using a mix of 2 parts salt to 1 part baking soda by weight. The articles I read were unanimous on not using iodized salt as it will turn the bait brown. I suspect like those lovely cigar minnows in WalMart. You know, the ones in the yellow package that look about as appetizing as a chunk of mangrove root.
Back on point. The articles were split on coarse or fine salt. I can tell you from experience, fine salt will give a much more uniform result with a dry brine and will dissolve much faster in the seawater. Morton's pickling salt is very fine and has no iodine. It comes in 2 lb boxes, Arm and Hammer baking soda comes in 2 lb boxes. 2 salt, one soda, you're set.
I mixed brine for the first time today and it worked great. The powder dissolved almost instantly. I think I need more ice, but the mix was still VERY cold. The proportions I will use next time are: 1 lb brine powder, 2 gallons seawater 10 lbs ice. Mix the water and the powder then dump in the ice.
I left the pinfish in for about 6 hours. Then I fished them out (no pun intended) and let them drain for about 10 minutes. Vacuum packed into useable quantities and froze them.
They are now frozen solid and the appearance is surprizing. The color is very vivid and even the eyes look good. After they sit for a few days, I'll post a pic. I'll also follow up with a post on how it worked once I finally get to use them.
Fishing is not a matter of life or death, It's much more important than that.