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Scent For Fishing: A Scent Debate

Scent For Fishing: A Scent Debate

On Nov. 21, we briefly commented on the Finesse News Network that Rick Hebenstreit of Shawnee, Kansas, Pok-Chi Lau of Lawrence, Kansas, and I noticed on our outings on Nov. 18 and 19 that the periodic application of a dab or two of Pro-Cure, Inc.'s Nightcrawler Super Gel scent on our Z-Man Fishing Product's soft-plastic baits seemed to make a noticeable difference in our catch rate of largemouth bass. But we were unable to devise a scientific method that would substantiate that the scent provoked the largemouth bass to engulf our offerings.

We did notice, however, that our catch rate was low when we didn't regularly apply to scent to our baits, and when we did apply it, our catch rate was better, and sometimes it was significantly better. Of course, we might have merely crossed paths with some bass or they crossed paths with us, and we would have caught them without the applications of sent. It is an enigmatic world that lies under our boats. Thus we have only the very fallible human ability of supposition to use when we attempt to interpret what the largemouth bass are doing and why they are doing it.

Within this brief report, we also mentioned that scent seems to be more effective during cold-water times than it does when the water is warm. This has been a phenomenon that we have been aware of since we have been doctoring our finesse baits with a scent year-round, which began in the late fall of 2011. 

To add another perspective to the scent phenomenon, we noted that the saltwater folks at Z-Man, anchored by Capt. C.A. Richardson of St. Petersburg, Florida, have found that scent seems to help their catch rates to rise.

There are, however, a goodly number of talented anglers who have found and concluded that scent is hokum. Therefore, after we post observations such as we did on the Finesse News Network on Nov. 21, these naysayers rightly assert that we can't prove that scent works or doesn't work in the real world. And because there are so many questions about the effectiveness of scent, a debate usually erupts. And here are some of the comments and insights that anglers contributed to the Finesse News Network:

Clyde Holscher is a multispecies guide from Topeka, Kansas, and he posted the first response. He said: "Thanks for sharing your Pro-Cure scent insights. Back in my bass tournament days, I was not a hardened scent advocate. But after sharing conversations with you over the past years, I've became an ardent apostle of Pro-Cure. But much like you, Rick Hebenstreit and Pok-Chi Lau, I don't have scientific data that proves that it works. I also use Loctite Super Glue Gel to affix the Z-Man baits on 1/16-ounce jigs for my clients, and we think Pro-Cure covers the unnatural or repulsive odor of the glue. What's more, when I talk to my clients about the seemingly magical effects of Pro-Cure, it seems to have a positive mental or psychological effect on the way my clients fish." 

Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, responded straightaway to Holster's comments, and he wrote: "Clyde is indeed a smart guide. The scent attractants are now a given here in North Carolina with inshore saltwater anglers who fish for redfish and flounder. My question to the group of disbelievers on the Finesse News Network is why would scented plastics charm saltwater species more than freshwater fish?"

Daniel Nussbaum of Ladson, South Carolina, who is general manager of Z-Man Fishing Products, addressed Poe's question.

He wrote: "Regarding the importance of scent in saltwater, I think it is very species-dependent. For instance, my experience has been that scent really helps for redfish, but sea trout on the other hand are more visual feeders, and I haven't found that scent makes much difference in my trout fishing. I don't have as much freshwater experience, but I've heard from our pros that scent is more important to smallmouth versus largemouth. Of course, this may have to do with the cold water versus warm water point brought up earlier. 

"I really haven't noticed much of a difference in warm or cold water though. For me, water clarity is the biggest factor. If the water is muddy and visibility is poor, I am more likely to add some Pro-Cure to help the fish find the bait. For those of us who like to throw plastics around here, muddy water is often one of the biggest obstacles to catching fish.

"My preference is not to use scent, because there is something about tricking a fish to eat a piece of plastic on a hook. It's just more satisfying to me. I typically only use scent when I know fish are around but I am not getting bit.

"There is no doubt in my mind that scents like Pro-Cure make a big difference in fishing for redfish. I can't tell you how many times I've watched an angler on the back of my boat apply some Pro-Cure and then get bit on the very next cast while I can't get bit fishing an unscented bait on the bow. Several years ago when I was testing Pro-Cure scents to use with our Z-Man's soft-plastic baits, I did a very unscientific experiment where I fished two rods baited with cut mullet side-by-side near a redfish school. One of the mullet chunks was coated with Pro-Cure Mullet Super Gel, and one was not. I think I caught nine fish on the cut mullet with Pro-Cure and only one fish on the other rod in about thirty minutes. That was pretty telling in my mind."


Glenn Young of Blythewood, South Carolina, and Z-Man's national sales manager, provided the anglers on the Finesse News Network with an interesting observation, and he noted that ElaZtech, which is the material that Z-Man uses to manufacture its soft-plastic baits, absorbs oil scents better than most soft plastic baits.

Casey Kidder of Topeka, Kansas, was one of the first members of the Finesse News Network, and he has helped us write untold numbers of words about finesse fishing for the past decade. He wrote: "There have definitely been times where I though that scent helped. But I am more likely to use it during a tournament or when fishing is tough. I don't know if it's a confidence thing, or if it really helps get a few more bites. It is difficult to test its effectiveness. During the past several years, I have caught a lot of fish on Berkley's Powerbait plastics and other scented plastics like those made by Lake Fork Trophy Lures and GrandeBass. Now, I tend to use the either Pro-Cure, Inc.'s scent or Berkley's Gulp! Alive! on Z-Man baits and MegaStrike Fish Attractant on jigs.

Steve Quinn of Brainerd, Minnesota, is In-Fisherman's senior editor. He is also an accomplished and veteran angler, and he provided the Finesse News Network with a few of his many astute insights about scent, as well as a note or two about sound, that he has observed across his many years fishing and writing about fishing.

Quinn first focused on a way to test the effectiveness of scents, and he said: "The best trials of this sort are done by the folks at the Berkley Fish Research Center in Spirit Lake, Iowa. During these trials, anglers, who are in the same boat, are randomly assigned lures that have been treated or untreated with scent formulas. Then the baits are rotated to avoid any angler bias. The simultaneous use of scented and unscented lures should begin to show a pattern, one way or another. Of course, religious record-keeping is essential, and the larger the sample size of time, catches, and anglers the better the trail is."

Quinn also said: "I also have noticed that scent/flavor applications seem to be more effective in the colder months, when we typically fish soft baits more slowly, which allow the formulas more time to work, and the cold water doesn't wash them away as quickly as in warm water (or current). We also found additional sound can be amazingly effective, which is accomplished by using Crackle tablets (freeze-dried carbon dioxide in gel capsules) that could be inserted into a tube bait. You could pierce the gel cap to start the chemical reaction, or else wait for water to dissolve the shell. Then there are little explosions like Rice Krispies that can be deadly when this cracking-and-popping bait is deadsticked in high-percentage areas — even when the water temperature is below 40 degrees."

Gord Pyzer of Kenora, Ontario, is a longtime field editor for In-Fisherman, fishing editor for Outdoor Canada Magazine, and co-host on The Real Fishing Radio Show. He is also an ardent and skillful angler, and he provided the Finesse News Network with a different perspective about scents.

Pyzer wrote: "One of the people I enjoy interviewing the most for magazine features is Dr. Keith A. Jones of Spirit Lake, Iowa, and Director of Research at Berkley Fish Research Center. He received his Ph.D. from the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, specializing in fish olfactory senses.

He is adamant that fish do not smell, taste, or perceive odours the way we humans do. In fact, they can detect nothing that is oil based. He says you can wash you lure in gasoline and they will not detect it. For fish to smell or taste anything, it must be water soluble. Hence the absolute biggest turn offs for fish are DEET, which is the active ingredient in most insect repellents, and PABA, which is the ingredient in most sunscreens, and both of these elements are water soluble." 

(In addition to Quinn and Pyzer's comments, anglers can read more about Jones and the Berkley Fish Research Center in Jones' book entitled "Knowing Bass: the Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish," which was published by The Lyons Press in 2002.)

Brian Waldman of Coatesville, Indiana, introduced his opinions about the effectiveness of scents by saying that Matt Straw, who is an In-Fisherman field-editor from Brainerd, Minnesota, wrote the magnum opus on scent in an article titled "Scent for Bass: Does It Matter?" From Waldman's vast experiences, he has concluded that scent is "a lot like color in that it doesn't matter, except when it matters, which might likely be only a very small percentage of the time. There are a lot of unknowns, and it's all a guessing game. I don't use scent at all, and I haven't used it for 30 years. Would I have caught a few more fish on a few more trips over those years if I had? Perhaps I would have. But again, the trade-off to me is buying, bringing, using it regularly, spilling, and gumming things -- as will as the costs of all those factors -- versus taking my chances by not using. My catch rate for the entire year in 2012 was 9.8 bass per hour, and after adopting a few more Midwest Finesse specifics this year, my catch rate is more than 12 bass per hour. How much more would my catch rate have gone up if I used scent regularly? I don't know, but I'm catching more than enough to not worry about finding out. In other words, I'm satisfied and can live with my current catch rate. It is a choice everyone has to make for themselves based on their own waters and preferences. Yet, I still might toy with it some next year just because I'm curious." 

Dwight Keefer of Phoenix, Arizona, spent a lot of his teenage years fishing with the late and great Chuck Woods who was the patriarch of Midwest finesse fishing.

Keefer wrote: "I have commented several times about the need for scent when fishing with Z-Man or other soft plastics. On numerous occasions, I have sat on schools of largemouth and Florida-strain largemouth bass in eight to 25 feet of water. When I couldn't catch anymore out of the school, I applied Bang Shad Formula, and on the next cast, I would catch a bass. Usually I could catch three to seven bass out of the school. It didn't seem to make any difference if the schools were on a flat, associated with hydrilla or other types of submersed aquatic vegetation, hovering around some kind of structure or suspended. The spraying of Bang Shad Formula clearly worked at every location.

"When I use a Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ, the Bang spray makes it look iridescent, and if you drop it on the surface of the water, you will see what looks like an oil slick, much like shad leave on the surface. Besides creating that slick-oily-iridescent look, I suspect this Bang spray masks human odors and other repulsive smells. I have not been successful using the Bang's Pure Craw Formula or Anise Formula. 

"I first learned about scent when I was working at Ray Fincke's tackle shop in Kansas City in the mid-1960s. Ray Fincke and I were fishing Bull Shoals Lake in April of 1965, and joining us on this outing was one of the tackle shop's customers by the name of Joe. (I can't recall his last name.) Joe had an old small Skippy Peanut Butter jar, and he would put a pack of purple Creme Scoundrel worms in the jar, and then he would spray Mennen's underarm deodorant into the jar and then put the lid on it. When he was using these worms, and Ray and I weren't using them, Joe was clearly out fishing us. But as soon as Ray and I started using the Mennen sprayed worms, we caught as many as Joe caught. It gave the worms the same iridescent look as the Bang Shad Formula currently does.

"After that outing, I continued to spray my worms with the Mennen's spray. For instance, at the World Series of Fresh Water Fishing tournament at Long Lake, Wisconsin, I initially caught several largemouth bass in relatively shallow water on a Bass Buster Lure Company's Scorpion. Then I fished some submerged aquatic vegetation in eight to 10 feet of water, where I used the Mennen-sprayed Creme Scoundrel worms and caught seven largemouth bass on seven consecutive casts. I sprayed the worm after I caught each of those bass. My first day's weight was enough to win the entire two-day tourney.

After Steve Quinn read Keefer's Mennen's tales, he responded by writing: "Pretty good endorsement from Dwight! Do they still make that stuff?"

In the months to come, we hope to write more words about either the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of scents.

End notes

For more insights about scents, please examine these links:





(5) In this blog, Larry "Doc" Seger talks about why and how he use a garlic scent in the Ozark waterways that he fished.

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