The Lowdown on Fish Attractants

Posted by  Monday, June 10 2013 7:00 am
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FishAttractant 1Anglers are a conscientious bunch. We change our fishing line religiously, sharpen hooks frequently and make sure that our tackle boxes are crammed full of all the latest gear and gadgets. But how many turn their noses up at the bottles of fish attractants that line the tackle store shelves, believing that they are nothing more than a money-grabbing fish gimmick?

Skepticism reigns supreme in the land we call fishing, although the addition of scent to your arsenal can bring about bigger and better fish, and for those tempted enough to try it, the proof is definitely in the pudding. Read on to find out how applying scent can bring about sure-fire success.

The Rules of Attraction

There are many different kinds of fish attractants on the market. From spray bottles to squeeze tubes and jars to jellies, the tackle store shelves are literally soaking with a wide-range of product. It can be mind-boggling to say the least, but before you buy, you need to uncover the reason for using the stuff in the first place.

Losing The Negativity

Although most people believe that the sole use of scent is to attract fish to their lures, the most useful property scent exhibits is the ability to mask negative smells and tastes.

Never really thought of it that way, did you? Well, here's how it works.

Much like the strong, pungent smell of a skunk will find us pinching our noses, the same odor threshold can be said for all species of gamefish. (Mind you, fish may have a hard time detecting a skunk below the water, and they sure haven't adapted to covering their nose with their fins!)

When you think about it, we offer the fish many different reasons not to take a taste test of our lures. We unknowingly toss baits all day long that have come into contact with such fish-negative smells as sun lotion, bug spray, gasoline, cigarettes and worst of all, our own human scent. This can cause a fish to turn up their nose and refuse to bite. Even if you think your hands are clean, L-Serine (a tasteless, odorless chemical found in the skin oils of humans) will always be present on every worm, jig, or crankbait you come into contact with. 

Applying fish scent to a lure will mask or eliminate these undesirable smells, leaving your bait free from repellents and smelling attractive to any fish that happens upon it.

In this case, it's not so much an attractant as it is a cover-up for scents we unknowingly cast to the depths below.

Help With Holding On

Studies have shown that fish can spit out a lure in the blink of an eye. If the bait they are trying to ingest feels unnatural, or has a negative taste or odor, the chances of you driving the hooks home is a very low-percentage game. This is where fish attractant really shines.

The application of scent will make your offering feel and taste alive, convincing a fish to hold on to the bait for a much longer time, ultimately allowing an angler to "feel" the fish first and then set the hook. 

Much of the game of fishing has to do with feeling a fish strike (the subtle mouthing of a jig or the faint pick-up of a jerk worm), which in turn allows us to strike with a hook set. Without sensing the take of your bait, you'll never know that a fish was there.

Fishing scent can "trick" a fish into holding your bait for five, 10 or even 30 seconds — this can be downright impossible when throwing a lure that hasn't been juiced up.

If you don't believe the validity of this scenario, try this little test the next time you hit the water. Tie two identical jigs on, one smothered with fish scent and the other coated with sunscreen. Find a shallow, clear area of the lake that is holding panfish and take turns casting each of the lures. You'll soon see for yourself how important the addition of a positive scent can be.

The Smelling Game

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Fish scent is available in many different varieties for different species.

As you can see from the above examples, the use of fishing scent goes far beyond the notion of actually attracting fish to your bait through the use of smell. This however can very well happen, depending on the specie you are targeting.

For the most part, motion, shape, noise and water displacement are the primary stimuli that cause fish to strike a lure. In layman's terms, a fish senses and is attracted to your lure long before smell or taste figures in the picture. Once they get close enough to your bait and commit to striking, taste and smell certainly have an important impact on the final decision.

Fish are a weird bunch. Some have a finely tuned sense of smell, while others seem to have a bad case of sinus congestion. The initial scent of a lure can attract a fish in from a distance, but that all depends on what you are targeting. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most sensitive sense of smell) here are some examples of common gamefish:

9-10 Catfish and Shark
7-8 Carp
6-7 Salmon and Trout
5 Bass and Walleye
1-2 Pike and Muskie

As you can see, the addition of scent can attract a fish (such as a catfish or carp) to your bait long before they ever see it or sense it's movement. When dealing with pike or muskie, however, scent is only useful when they have already made visual contact and are just about to strike.

Although bass are in the middle of the pack when it comes to olfactory capabilities, keep this little tidbit in mind: the freshwater black bass can sense 1/200th of a drop of a substance in 100 gallons of water! Not bad for a creature that possesses a brain the size of a pea.

The Different Kinds

Fish scent is available in many different varieties. From crayfish to shad and garlic to anise, the combinations are limitless.

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My advice is to select a few different varieties of scent and begin to experiment when out on the water.

When choosing a scent, my logic is to decide the species that you will be targeting, then figuring out their most-sought after prey. For example, when chasing after smallies, I will usually apply a crayfish scent to my lures and baits. If largemouth are the intended target, a switch over to a shad scent can be highly effective. If choosing natural flavored scents, try to pick those that are made with real ingredients. Real crayfish or shad parts will be just as convincing as the genuine thing.

Saying that, oddball smells can often be your ace in the hole. On a recent trip to a smallmouth lake, my partner was applying a garlic scent to his jerk worms. To make a long story short, he literally cleaned up! Now, there certainly isn't any garlic growing in the water, but for some reason, these smallies went bonkers over it. 

My advice is to select a few different varieties of scent and begin to experiment when out on the water. Try to figure out what specie prefers which, while also uncovering the baits they seems to work best on. Once this information is extrapolated, you will undoubtedly see your success rates rise.

To Squirt or Squeeze — That is the Question

Fish attractants come in a variety of packaging. Jars, tubes, spray canisters and squirt bottles — a wide range of options for an angler looking to get into the fray. 

I have found that all work well, but in the case of coverage, the spray canister takes the cake. The only downside I can see is the wasted scent that is blasted into thin air. On the plus side, they are quick and easy to use — a definite advantage when the fish are on the bite.

Squirt bottles let you measure the exact amount of scent you wish to apply — a money-saving advantage for the angler. They can become messy over time (although this is not the case if you give the bottle a quick wipe when done for the day), and have been known to clog up when baking in the hot sun.

Jars are designed for catfish and carp scented baits, and are necessary for keeping the pungent smells in. (Make sure to tighten these lids down unless you want a horrid surprise left in your tackle bag.)

Tubes seem to be the least of my favorites, as for the most part they don't stand up in the bow of the boat, and the scent seems to be too solid for applying purposes. Although they may work well for holding stink baits, for traditional scent, they are a poor choice. Fish attractants are coming into the forefront of the angling world. With the new advances scientists are making, duplicating attractive smells and tastes equals more fish for the angler that chooses to use them.

Take a look at fish scent next time you troll the tackle aisles — you'll be more than glad you did!

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Last modified on Monday, August 26 2013 11:16 am
Justin Hoffman
expert

Justin Hoffman is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer, with a fishing specialty, based in Ottawa Ontario, Canada. A graduate of the North American School of Outdoor Writing and currently a field editor with Ontario OUT OF DOORS magazine, outdoor pursuits with a journalistic approach keep him returning to the field week after week. A well-established freelance writer since 1999, Justin has publishing credits in many North American magazines and web sites. His photographic stock work also appears regularly. In addition to his writing and photography work, Justin is also a Pro Staffer for TUFF-Line and National Pro Staff. For more information visit www.JustinHoffmanOutdoors.com.

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