Today was a day of scents, and I hope that of some sense, at the Shadow ranch and local waters.

It seemed like everything I did either smelled good or bad, and odors had something to do with the success and outcome of each task. I had to eliminate some pesky weeds with some smelly herbicide. Next I mixed up some smelly epoxy to adhere the scales on a knife that I’m working on.

Since I had to leave the shop while the epoxy set, it seemed logical to hook up to my bass boat and go to the lake for a while. After fishing with no results for a few minutes, I decided to try a different approach.

Digging out a nice 3/8-ounce jig and a baby brush hog trailer seemed like the proper combination. Tying it all on, I sprayed it down with some crawdad “bang” fish attractant. The second cast barely touched bottom till it took off for deep water. I set the hook hoping the massive bend in the rod meant a very large bass. After some time I simply wore him out and pulled a very large channel catfish alongside the boat. Not wanting to slime up my carpet, I unhooked him and let him loose to grow and give some other angler the same experience. I’m sure the scent I applied to the lure was the great attractant.

Do scents (fish attractants) really work? Do they make the fish bite? Do some work better than others? Many fish species feed largely by smell and taste. Catfish are among these.

In this column I’m talking mostly about what we call bass (largemouth, spotted bass, and smallmouth). These are primarily “sight feeders.” That is, they prefer to see what they put into their mouths. That is not to say they aren't influenced by other factors such as vibrations, noises, odors and tastes. They usually home in on a victim or lure by using sensors other than sight and then make a last minute adjustment allowing them to strike the lure or prey.

Lures and other prey items displace water and make vibrations that are easily sensed thru the lateral lines on the fish’s sides. Especially in dirty water this allows the fish to know of the presence of the quarry much before it can be seen. This is why larger lures work better in dirty water. They displace more water and create more vibrations. These senses are in operation much before the prey or lure is in a proximity that would allow smell or taste to be a factor.

Bass have nostrils just above their mouths. There are two openings in each, allowing an inlet and outlet thru which water passes and scents are detected. Some have suggested that bass also have receptors in and around their mouths.

So which smells and tastes work best? Actually, no one really knows. Many anglers get so much confidence in some “attractant” that they let it be a substitute for proper fishing techniques and good lure presentation.

Many manufacturers have attractants aimed at the natural smells like crayfish and shad, and these seem to be logical. Others lean toward salt, garlic, anise and other formulas that maybe do not seem to be as natural. Many of the substances that are used to manufacturer these products are by-products of some other manufacturing process. Fish oils are a good example of this.

Most of these oily substances wash off within a few casts and few anglers recoat the lures regularly. The first few casts may be the most important, however, as this is when you have handled the lure the most and it may be covered with smells from sunscreen, gasoline, tobacco, or just the natural l-serine that is existent in all human skin and is reported to be a deterrent to fishing success.

Having said that, I also have a problem thinking that a fish knows what a human or any one of the other items smells like, but some of those smells may be offensive to the bass even if he doesn’t know what it is. Applying the attractant to a dry lure helps it to last longer.

The receptors used by the bass for sampling the smells do seem to be triggering devices for strikes. I don’t think this is a conscious decision as you or I would consider the smell from a hamburger or a pizza and decide which smells best.

With the fish, the smell enters the receptor and is kind like a green light/red light response. If it triggers the green light, the fish strikes. Otherwise he simply lets the item pass by. Unfortunately it may not always be the same smell for the same fish in the same or differing circumstances. Other factors affect the likelihood of a strike such as proximity of the spawning season, adjacent noises such as trolling motors and in-boat sounds, and presence of fear pheromones given off by injured or frightened creatures nearby.

I think that using attractants is normally an advantage. One big advantage comes from the likelihood of the fish hanging onto the lure longer after making the strike. If it tastes good he simply doesn’t spit it out as quickly, giving us an increased response time.

Many times a bass picks up a lure, exhales it, and the angler has no idea that it happened. This eliminates some of those instances. Use attractants to increase success rates but do not let them affect your confidence levels so that they replace good fishing habits.

Personally, I do not like the ones that are terribly smelly and leak all over the carpet in my boat, so I opt for one called Bang in an aerosol can. It seems to work just as well and my wife will still kiss me (sometimes), when I get back home.

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Dave Shadow is an outdoor columnist for the Journal-Gazette/Times-Courier.

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