In the race for a multi-senses lure, many anglers and manufacturers have for a long time added scent to their lure or fished scented lures. Since fish can’t talk and won’t tell us why they bit our lure, we are left wondering. For many people, the simple answer is “it can’t hurt”. And maybe that’s the wisest answer after all. So let’s find out how it works.
Today a majority of soft plastic baits come loaded with all sorts of added scents. Garlic, licorice, shrimp you name it it’s out there. The wildest claim accompanies these products, that they catch more fish, or attract fish in one way or another. Let’s find out about the science, what really happens underwater.
Most animal life has one really strong sense. Wild boars have an amazing smell, but they don’t see very well. Eagles have sighting abilities that rival military drones, others have boosted hearing abilities. We as humans are pretty average, nothing too bad but not one really great sense. In terms of smell, we are even quite poor. Especially when compared with dogs.
What about fish? Where do they stand? This has been studied extensively, but we can just start with common sense. How does a boar sense our presence? By being downwind. Scent molecules disperse easily in the air, carried by the wind. Water is not a medium where scents disperse very well. In still water, they hardly disperse at all. And even when they do with the current in a river, the number of molecules released will hardly create a continuous stream that a predator will be able to follow to the source, the scented lures.
Some fish rely on their sense of smell to find food. Carps, catfish have remarkable abilities. For that purpose, they have barbs with very sensitive chemoreceptors. But pike, perch, zander, or bass don’t have such organs. It’s just common sense to understand that smell is not game fish’s primary sense to locate and consume food.
That’s not to say scents are entirely useless and should be disregarded. Experiments have shown that a scented lure gets bit more often than unscented ones. In other words, the scent will not draw fish to your lure but it will help trigger them to bite. That’s huge if you ask me.
But all scents are not created equal. Game fish are equipped with taste buds in their mouth and around their head to detect a fairly narrow range of odor. Indeed they are designed to detect potential food items such as bait fish, crawfish, or other meat-related items; so any plant-based scents are entirely unknown to game fish. Garlic, anise, or licorice might seem appetizing to us but are utterly useless at triggering any kind of reaction from fish.
When choosing your add-on scents or scented baits, pay attention to their composition. Any oil-based scents will fail to be detected by game fish. Because it’s not soluble in water, the molecule will float up to the surface uselessly. They can however do a good job at masking negative and foul odors already on the lure such as plastic components.
However, water-based and meaty products such as shrimp, bait fish, or crawfish can help push fish over the edge at the last second and turn a following fish into a strike. They will also help fish hold on to the lure longer for a delayed hook set.
Anglers should be aware that some scents can have a repelling effect on fish. It’s hard to sort out myth from reality, and in doubt, it’s better to be careful and avoid having the following product in contact with lure: insect repellent, sunscreen, tobacco/nicotine, perfume, and sweat. The latter contains L-serine which is a known fish repellent. If you need to touch any of these products during the day, keep some eco-friendly soap with you and wash your hand before tying a new lure.
Some scent manufacturers claim their product contains pheromones or kairomones. The wise angler should view this with a good dose of skepticism. First of all, these hormones are just about impossible to source in industrial volume. Then because pheromones are meant to communicate between individuals of the same species and are therefore very specific. Sex pheromones are used to find a mating partner, how is that going to help a lure get bit? There are no feeding pheromones.
Kairomones are designed for inter-species communication, some can be repellent or other attractants such as the blood of wounded prey. This is one of the reasons why live bait or cut bait are so efficient and are well known fish catchers.
Scented lures should be taken seriously by anglers but are not the alpha and omega that some manufacturers would want us to believe. Use common sense, beware of repellent and let the fish tell you what works and what doesn’t.