By John Tertuliani
If you use chicken liver or beef liver for fish bait, you know the challenge of keeping it on a hook. But anglers have come up with creative presentations of hard-to-hold bait. And the longer you keep bait on a hook, the better your chances of catching a fish.
Some anglers cure chicken liver in the manner in which West Coast anglers cure eggs (salmon roe) to fish for salmon and steelhead. They buy premade cure or make their own. A common formula is three parts Borax, two parts sugar, one part non-iodized salt (pickling salt), and dye. The dye is not needed for the curing process; it is added to enhance the visual attraction of the final product.
Catfish anglers sometimes use brown sugar instead of granular sugar. The ingredients are mixed thoroughly in a gallon Ziploc bag. Curing preserves, removes moisture, and toughens the liver, depending on how it is cured, wet or dry.
Wet curing is putting a layer of the curing mixture in the bottom of the empty liver container, then a layer of liver, another layer of mixture, and then liver until all of the liver is covered. The container is then stored in a refrigerator or freezer.
A dry cure is laying out the liver on newspaper or paper towels and coating the liver with the curing mixture. This method attracts flies and gives off some odor, which is why the drying process is done outdoors. Dry time varies with the thickness of the liver, the effectiveness of the mixture, and relative humidity. Once cured, the liver is often stored in plastic bags.
Cured liver is firm and, preserved, practical to use. But the curing process is not for everyone. You may prefer fresh liver, but find it difficult to use. If you do, look no further than the ingenuity of the anglers on the West Coast: They have you covered.
They refined a couple of methods dealing with delicate bait. Both may be worth trying if you like to use fresh liver. One is an egg loop on the back of the hook, and the other is a spawn sac made of fine-mesh fabric. An egg loop is just that – a loop of monofilament between the snell and the eye of the hook. Simply push some of the running line back through the eye of the hook enough to make a loop, pull the chicken liver through, and snug the loop down on the liver.
I prefer the liver sac presentation over the egg loop. Liver is secure in the mesh sac, and smaller fish are less likely to get the bait. It saves time on the water if you have fresh bait prepared beforehand. Each freezer bag should contain a number of baits for an average fishing trip.
Mesh to make a liver sac comes in many forms. I started with the obvious material – a commercial mesh made for spawn sacs of salmon roe. It’s available in 3- or 4-inch squares or rolls. The 4-inch roll worked best for liver.
It will be easier to form a liver sac with a piece of mesh 4 inches wide and at least 8 inches long. With a 4X4 square, I could not secure the four corners. Trying to secure the loose ends with a second 4X4 sheet worked, but the sheets separated after time in the water, so it’s better to use one piece of material to make a liver sac.
The elastic thread sold with the spawn-sac mesh is ideal. Wrap the sac ends a couple of times and pull them tight until the thread breaks. Elastic thread is probably available in department stores for those who work with fabrics. You may not need to buy the specialty thread.
Once the sac is wrapped, scissors can cut the excess mesh material sticking out past the knot.
Elastic thread is not necessary but makes tying mesh sacs easier. You simply pull tight until it breaks and the thread holds. The same can be said for the mesh needed to make spawn sacs, because you can use medical gauze. It is often called tubular elastic dressing, used to hold bandages in place on arms and legs. It is less expensive and can be easier to use than the spawn mesh. Search online to find a source.
Size 1 is narrowest, 5⁄8-inch width, probably designed for fingers. Tie a knot in about a 2-inch section.
After some practice, you may want to start with a section that is larger or smaller than 2 inches long. Cut the section off just below the knot, then turn the sac inside out to put the bottom knot inside the sac. Fill it with liver, knot it off at the top, and trim the excess.
A completed sac hooked once should not come off unless you snag bottom. Size 1/0 or 2/0 hooks are sufficient when the sac is hooked just below the knot. The point of the hook needs to be exposed to ensure hooking potential.
Present a liver sac as you would any other liver presentation. One difference you may notice is the rounded sac is more prone to rolling in a river, and not much flow is needed to twist it on the line. Lakes and still-water areas are where a liver sac shines.
One peculiar trait you may notice is a prolonged bite. The fish detect the mesh and may not immediately bite. The presence of the liver is undeniable, but a fish may take longer to bite, which can easily test your nerves.