I've been asking guys in the shop if they use scents on their lures and I've had some surprising answers. It seems like most people have used scents at one time or another but a lot of them have stopped using them over the years. I'm talking about using them for largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass. In the past, I too have used scents like Bang, Smelly Jelly, and Hot Sauce to name a few. I've had a lot of success over the years using them, but I really don't use them anymore. Why did I do so well using them and then why did I stop?
Scent or no scent?
My buddy Vic has a theory on scents and it stems from over 30+ years of fishing. When it comes to chasing stripers, he believes that scents can work sometimes, but he worries that if they don't like the scent, you'll loose more bites than if they occasionally like the scent. Once the scent is on your lure, it may be difficult to get off.
Fish smell in parts per million and who's to say how much scent we should put on. If we load the lure with a gel, and the water is cold, not much of the scent will come off since it is thick and coagulated on the bait. When the water is warmer and the gel scent is less viscous, it will come off easier presumably giving off more scent. Should we put less on in the summer and more on in the winter. Fishing has always been about the little things and taking into consideration these and other factors may make a huge difference.
But what if they do like the scent? What if the right one makes them bite more times than not? Why would they like it one day and not another? These are all questions I'm not sure we can answer, but we can try based anecdotally on what we know from hundreds and thousands of hours on the water in conjunction with the science behind how fish smell.
What scent should I use?
Garlic seems to be a good scent to use, after all trout and many others fish regularly bite lures with garlic scent on them. Until recently, I would have told you that garlic was only good in freshwater, but Hookup Baits came out in Southern California and that myth was busted.
Hookup Baits is a tube style bait that is packed with garlic scent from the factory. These baits catch everything we've thrown them at including rock fish, white sea bass, yellowtail, calico bass, halibut, spotted bay bass, and many other saltwater fish. I believe part of it is the action, but a huge part of it is the strong garlic scent. Why would any fish bite something that smells like garlic and why especially would saltwater fish?
Garlic has 17 amino acids in it, the same building blocks of proteins that are found in fish, including baitfish. Since there are only 20 total amino acids in the world, there has to be an overlap between fish amino acids and garlic amino acids.
There are a ton of really good scents I've used over the years and I can't say they didn't work. I caught fish on Bang, Smelly Jelly, and Hot Sauce to name a few. They have different application methods, for instance Bang is an spray and Hot Sauce is a gel. Bang doesn't last too long but you don't get it on your hands. Gels last a lot longer but they get runny when the weather get's warm, you tend to get it everywhere.
Jim of Jim's guide service on Castaic Lake says he doesn't use scent anymore but back in the day they would smother Smelly Jelly over everything. He said they did very well using it, but why did he stop if it worked so well? My guess is that we just kinda get lazy and are tired of one more thing to worry about. But the whole point of fishing is to catch fish and if using a scent increases those chances, we should use scents on everything.
This can't be more true than with lures that fish tend to follow, but won't strike. Large trout style swimbaits come to mind and will drive an angler nuts with how many fish will follow the lure but not strike it. Having the right scent on the bait may take some of those followers and turn them into biters.
Do big fish eat scented lures?
Striped bass have 4 nostrils, largemouth and smallmouth only have 2, they move water through their olfactory system while they swim. The larger a bass gets, the better it can smell. As bass age, they grow more scent smelling folds in their olfactory system. I would guess that as they age, they learn what is edible and what is not.
But if less and less anglers, at least at Castaic Lake, are using scents, is it possible that scents will work even better. Especially consider that for larger fish, which haven't smelled Hot Sauce in a few years. It may be the trigger that entices the old girl to take your bait, even after she's seen hundreds over her lifetime.
There really is no way to know whether scents work or not until you start to use them more often. It would be interesting to make a log every time you fish, using scent some times and not others and then tracking the results. What works in California, may not work in Texas. If a certain scent is used a lot where you fish, the fish may get used to it over time. In general, I'd say they do work and will improve your fishing. After all, fish have evolved to smell for a reason.
Let me know if you use scent, or don't use scent, and the results you've had.
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The Oxblood and Morning Dawn patterns are working better in the stained water or mud lines, and I switch to the more translucent colors like Neptune Shad, Watermelon Candy and Purple Smoke in the clearer areas. Netting Shad for bait remains difficult as the falling water is keeping them off the bank for now. Hopefully they will come shallow when the lake stabilizes in a month or two.