Scents make Sense

For years, there have been articles on scents and attractants, and I’m often asked: ”Do they work? Can fish really smell? Why do some manufactures’ products smell like garlic? Why do some smell like licorice? How about coffee scent?” These are questions that may run through an anglers mind.

For the die-hard scent users, myself included, nothing can replace the confidence that scents provide. I was fortunate to be part of the test team for Carolina Lunker Sauce and eventually a member of their Pro Staff. There is more science out there in the creation of scents than one would expect.

So let’s answer some of these questions with what I have learned by working with Carolina Lunker Sauce. Can fish really smell? Not really. They do have nostrils, but they don’t smell like you and I do. They have olfactory glands inside and around their mouth, and in the nasal cavity. These glands are similar to the ones in our mouth, but are a billion times more sensitive since they have to filter through water.

This brings up a great scientific point; why are so many scents petroleum based? Petroleum is inexpensive, has a long shelf life, masks offensive odors well, and is easier to propel through sprays and aerosols. The few brands that are water based, or water soluble, would make more sense as to their effectiveness because water is what the bass filters, so if the scent is allowed to soak up in the water, then it is more natural for the fish to detect something edible or not. Two brands that come to mind which are water-soluble are Berkley and Carolina Lunker Sauce. Have you ever dropped a bait in the water after adding a scent that is petroleum based? You get that oil ring, a reminder that oil and water don’t mix. As a bait moves through the water column it gives off a scent trail, a petroleum based scent will soon float and although a water soluble scent will float too, it remains in the water column much longer. This allows a fish to hone in on the bait, which can let the angler make repeated casts to a target or area and as the fish sees the bait, they will pick up the scent as well. The bass’ primary sense is his eyesight followed closely by his lateral line. The bass’ sense of smell and taste are last on the list but can be critical within the strike zone. Both petroleum and water based scents have their place; I use both. If the bait is something that will be discarded later, such as a worm, spider grub, tube or Senko; I’ll opt for the petroleum-based products. I like the slickness of the petroleum based scents for these types of baits. My higher-priced baits will get the water-soluble scents, like spinnerbaits, crankbaits, large swimbaits, and expensive jigs.

Be cautious, when you return a bait to its box after scents have been applied, the petroleum based scents may cause a chemical reaction with other baits or the plastic box you use.

Anyone can catch fish in certain conditions. If the water is clear and the fish are active, then SIGHT alone may be all that’s needed. Once you move to deeper, or murky water, things can change dramatically. Bass can detect 1/200th of a drop of substance in 100 gallons of water. To put that into perspective, that’s equivalent to one ounce of chocolate syrup in 300 million gallons of milk. That illustration should make you consider using scents on all baits, including reaction-baits, and in all water conditions. A bass, like many other fish, will spit out a bait within a second or two if it doesn't taste acceptable. If the bass likes the taste it may hold onto it longer even though it might be an unnatural food source for the fish.

How long does scent last on a bait? There are several contributing factors such as temperature, brackish water and cover being fished but on average it can last 20 to 30 minutes. You may still smell the scent, but the amino acids are gone and the fish can no longer pick up the scent.

Why do some plastics smell like garlic, licorice (anise), or coffee? As mentioned before, bass don’t actually smell, they taste. Their olfactory glands pick up amino acids that their prey gives off. Garlic and anise have the same amino acid structure as crayfish and baitfish. When a bass sucks a bait into its mouth, his olfactory glands go to work and tell him if it’s edible or not. Along with garlic and anise, the Strike King Company came out with coffee in their soft plastics. Coffee doesn’t have an amino acid similar to garlic and anise but it does have a good masking quality. Along with all scents, coffee is a great inhibitor of offensive odors.

Masking your scent is far more important than attracting fish. Humans give off the number one offensive odor to fish, L-serine. Human sweat has a generous amount of L-serene, and your crotch has quite a bit of sweat, even on cool days, so how many times a day do you use the bathroom? Sunscreen and other items that may or may not be offensive to a bass are commonly used during a day of fishing. Having a bar of ivory soap or lemon Joy will help wash off those offensive odors. Protecting your hands with latex gloves during fueling or applying sunscreen helps. I always rub a little Lunker Sauce or other water-soluble scent on my hands before picking up a rod. I don’t want greasy hands but I do want to mask my scent.

We competitive anglers are always looking for an edge or a way to eliminate any chances of missing that limit or kicker fish so whether you use Megastrike, Smelly Jelly, Bang, Pro-Cure, Yum, Berkley or just a plain clove of garlic, adding scents to your everyday fishing routine will help more than hinder.

Brent is a talented angler and special education teacher in Las Vegas; he fishes as a professional angler on the WON Bass and B.A.S.S. Federation circuits. In the last few years he has qualified for the Western Classic and five B.A.S.S. Western Divisional events. Bass Pro shops, Carolina Lunker Sauce, Maxima Fishing Line and Bassaholics sponsor Brent. You may see him giving seminars at Bass Pro in Las Vegas or email him at

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