How Well do Fish Smell?
Salmon have the amazing ability to detect very small concentrations of some compounds in the water. This for them to good things as being able to smell good things for them like food, or other things that they can not stand and shy away from.
Members of the the salmonid family can detect L-serine amino acid in quantities as little as 1 part per 8 billion. This phenomena will work against fisherpersons far more than for them. If you understand and then take advantage of this information, you will put more fish in your fish-box. There are many manufacturers of fishing scent that have dedicated clients with testimonials as to the effectiveness of their product.
Sight, Sound, Smell ; In the sport fishing world there is documentation that this is mandatory if you plan on increasing your catch rate. All of these working together will increase your catch percentages. Any one alone can catch fish under the RIGHT conditions. If the water is clear and shallow enough to allow light to penetrate, then SIGHT alone may be all that is needed. However once you move to deeper, or murky water then things change dramatically.
How do you think deep sea fish find food? It is dark down there below 100' so sight is probably out of the equation. SOUND made by the preys movement could very well be helpful. But SMELL is also a very important item here.
The photo below shows a Spiny Lathrope crab taken from the stomach of a 45# halibut pulled from 450' of water off Neah Bay Washington in the early summer of 2008 and is shown laying on the bottom side of the tail of the halibut that had just ate it.
This crab was small, (about 2 1/2" across the body, not counting the legs), was 100% intact, meaning it had been very recently been picked out of it's gravel home on this bottom. As you can see it is covered with a hairy type substance that would help camouflage and allow it to hide it in the gravel. I say gravel as evidenced by the pounding on the cannonball weight against the bottom as we made that drift. However the one thing that may have been a demise of this crab was that it was a female that was laden with eggs, a few (about 10% of which can be seen as an orange mass on her under belly. The mass of these eggs was 10 times the amount seen in the photo. I am sure the eggs gave off a distinct smell separate from the crab itself leading to her demise.
|Here a Spiny Lathrope crab recovered from the stomach of a halibut caught at 450'|
SOUND would be from the vibrations of the lure in the water whereby the fish can zoom in as if it was using radar. How many times have you been in your yard and a younger person drives by with their vehicle sound system set so high using a BOOM BOX that you can feel them coming?
Again relationship to fishing for halibut in deep depths one common practice is when using a spreader bar (a heavy wire in the shape of an Ell designed to separate the weight from the bait as it is descending to the bottom, to keep them from tangling) is to bounce it on the bottom occasionally. It is known by some as "Ringing the Dinner Bell". This creates noise of the up to a 32 ounce lead weight and the spreader bar when they hit the bottom inviting the fish to investigate.
Fish are Attracted to Smells ; For years the typical method of fishing for bullhead catfish was to set out a stink bait sack composed of chicken entrails, blood, and about anything that would decompose making a bait trail in the river or lake, then wait a few days before anchoring nearby to fish.
Sturgeon are another fish that uses it's nose to locate food on the bottom. They eat clams, mussels, shrimp, dead smelt and about anything they can find on the bottom, many times in a murky situation, so smell is very likely a contributing factor here.
Good Smells : What this also means is that a good smell, or scent can be used on a lure as an attractant to help you catch fish. There are many companies that make attractants for just this purpose. These scents do two things; first they mask the L-serine that we humans all give off, but they can also contain amino acid profiles that appeal to fish to trigger feeding behavior.
Why Use a fish Attractant: There are two widely published facts about Bass in relevance to an attractant. These fish can detect 1/200th of a drop of substance in 100 gallons of water.
A Bass or many other fish will spit out a bait within 2 to 3 seconds if it doesn't taste acceptable to the fish. If the Bass like the taste but the lure is foreign to them, it can hold onto it for as long as 30 seconds before spitting it out even though it may be an unnatural food to the fish.
The goal of all fisherpersons to hook more fish, and fish attractant manufacturers are competing for your business by producing attractors that will prolong the amount of time a fish will hold onto your lure, and ultimately increase your chances of setting the hook and landing the fish. While slightly off topic here, for years steelhead fishermen have used some yarn in conjunction with corkies on a non baited lure. This yarn is to entangle in the fish's teeth, giving the fisherman a bit longer reaction time to set the hook.
One local well known salmon/halibut fisherman swears that coconut-scented Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen adds to his catch. Another successful salmon fisherman who is a member of our fishing club, has found that Greatian Formula, "Just for Men" hair color has improved his catch on the days he darkened his gray hair with it. This was not noticed happening over just a few days, but over numerous years. After he stumbled on this, he has been using it now for as good number of years then rather reluctantly passed it on at a club sponsored fishing seminar where he was making a presentation.
Do These Scents Work? There has been many side by side tests done and unequivocally it has proven the effectiveness of the scents and attractants. Ask about any tournament fisherperson, experienced anglers and guides if they use scent. There are many ways to use these attractants. Depending on the consistency, if it is a jelly, they you smear it on the lure or flasher that is being used as an attractor. Some of these attractants are a liquid and designed to be soaked into a fly or yarn.
There are also capsules that attach to the line that have small holes to slowly dispense the inserted scent. There is one nylon bag sold by Silver Horde that has hatchery salmon feed pellets inside that is attached to a downrigger ball to leave a scent trail in the lure's path. This is specifically designed by Tom Nelson of Salmon University to be more selective by attracting returning hatchery Coho salmon over wild (non hatchery reared) salmon.
Fishing guides have for years known that different egg cures work better for some species of fish than others. These are personal secrets that they guard closely. The egg cure they use for steelhead is different than the one they use for salmon. This surely is smell related and not taste related.
Oil based fish attractants
are said to be on the low end of the scale for effectiveness in attracting
steelhead or salmon. They will however, cause a fish to take a longer look
at your offering or keep it in their mouth for a greater period of time before
they spit it out. Oil based attractants will mask human scent and most
other offending odors. Products such as Smelly Jelly; Edge
Products Hot Sauce; Fish Formula; Mike’s Shrimp Oil, Riverside Lures Real
Craw; and Cossacks Bait Products shrimp, Herring, and Salmon egg oils are
considered to be primarily oil based scents.
Those attractants which include amino acids are based on evidence that combinations of amino acids can stimulate feeding in many fish species. Amino acids come from animal proteins and all living animals have their own unique amino acid combinations, giving each a distinct taste and odor. Few manufacturers of fish attractants use amino acids solely as the active ingredients in their recipe. Amino acids rate high at attracting and stimulating fish from a distance. It is thought that Berkley’s attractants are based on amino acids along with Pharmacal’s Baitmate Live and Dr. Juice’s Elixirs.
Scents such as anise oil, banana oil, and garlic are extracts from plants. These plant bi-products do not seem to have the same fish attracting ability as amino acids, but can cause fish to be interested as they provide an aroma some fish are not accustomed to smelling in their normal lives. Plant extracts are very effective in covering human odors along with others that might be present on your offering. A few plant scents are Cossack Bait Products Anise and Garlic Gel; Mister Twister Banana Oil; Atlas Mike’s Glow Scent Jel and Anise Oil; and Fish Formula Sparkl Scales.
One experienced river fishing
guide confided that at times he uses Preparation H or Karo corn syrup as a scent
attractor at times when the bite is off.
Some fish attractants are based on phermones or better classified as the elk in rut type chemical. Phermones are chemicals that animals use to communicate with members of their own species. Steelhead release their own phermones which are detected by the olfactory receptors of others. Fish in general, are thought to identify members of their species through the use of this chemical. Mating and courtship are also influenced by the chemicals presence. Phermones decompose rapidly and it seems their main function is to alert other fish of short term danger or attraction with little or nothing to do with feeding behavior. Dr. Juice Elixir is the only fish attractant that uses phermones.
Some lures incorporate scent directly into their soft baits like rubber worms or jig bodies. The scent in these soft baits encourages fish to not drop the baits soon as they realize it may not be what they thought, giving you a better chance of a hookset. Berkley has a huge selection of PowerBait for all species, including a new Inshore bait that has proved effective for halibut, and big lingcod.
For years salmon plunker fishermen have been using oil packed tuna fish balls in a golf ball size panty hose bag attached to the mainline swivel as a attractant. Now Brads Super Cut-Plug lure (shown below on the left) has a hinged tail section that can accommodate scent with open slots to disperse the scent. This hinged section is secured by a rubber band. A great way of using this lure for salmon is to remove the inner foam and insert a sardine fillet or oil-pack tuna as a scent by packing the cavity with the attractant. I have found that you should repack with new about every 1/2 hour. AND do not forget to remove the partly full container from the boat at the end of the day.
One year I ran two rods, one using this Brad's lure and the other with a cut plug herring. The Brad's cavity was filled with herring or anchovy scent every 20 minutes or so. At the end of the day there were more fish pulled/landed on the Brad's lure than on the herring. This proves to me that scent does work.
The Sheldon FBR winged bonnet also has the benefit of being able to cut the nose off the bait and stuff the cavity with scent, even tuna fish.
Brads Super Cut-Plug lure with my special trailer hook tie.
|Here is the Sheldon FBR herring/anchovy bonnet|
Do I Put Scent on All Lures/Bait? : This can be the $64 question, do I put scent on the flasher? Or use it only on bait or lure? My thoughts tend to align with, why apply scent on a perfectly good herring or shrimp that produces it's own scent? However if that herring had been drug as bait for an hour with no hits, then maybe a refresher of herring oil injection surely will not hurt. And it would be herring or anchovy oil, not shrimp oil. I can really see where it would be truly beneficial when used on a metal spoon or plastic plug lure.
At times it seems these bait and lure companies are making a product to extract paper money from your and I my wallet more than the fish, somewhat akin to politicians.
It has been my experience that basically Chinook salmon seem to prefer a mix of anchovy and garlic scent on lures. Bass and other warm-water fish seem to prefer crawfish or anis. Steelhead seem to prefer shrimp.
In the chart below taken from a well known fishing scent manufacturer in the Pacific NW, show what they have tested and formulated for different species.
|Which Scent Works Best for the Targeted Species?|
Does Scent Really Work? :Well I can't twist your arm from here, but look at most of the successful fishing guides, some even have a special scent that they guard it's formula VERY carefully . Using scent may allow you to catch more and possibly bigger fish.
Now let me give you a
testimonial, my neighbor had been doing quite well catching Kokanee in a
local lake. He was using a new lure which was the Rocky Mountain
Tackle's billfish squid behind a diver and dodger. But he just had to
put about 1/2" of night-crawlers on his hooks, and this was imperative here to for him to catch these fish. One day, I went with him, but declined
the worms, and used Mike's Krill liquid that I liberally smeared on the
diving bill. I proceeded to pull in 2 fish before he even had a bite
and by the end of the trip, he was using my scent. And we limited out
in an hour and half.
One thing about scents that people are not aware of or may forget, especially younger people, is that older fisherman may take a lot of drugs for different health conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. These drugs unfortunately can push a scent on through the skin and impart it on touched things. Or, people that work with chemicals can impart a scent from residual chemicals in their systems as well. One older fisherman, (kicking and screaming), was put on drugs for high blood pressure. He did notice a tail off of catches until he started wearing gloves and using some scents.
Also keeping your hands clean, removing offensive odors off your tackle and adding fish attracting smells to your offering will up your odds for better days on the water. If you can not wash your hands with soap, then use river sand or mud if you are a bankie. Maybe if you happen to catch a fish, even rub you hands all over it to transfer fish scent. Many fishermen will wear surgical gloves when baiting up so if you seem to not be catching the fish you think you should, then this would be a very simple and possibly rewarding experiment.
Also think about washing your hands BEFORE tying your leaders, this alone is one item that is usually overlooked, and it my just make the difference.
Scent Shelf Life : On the internet fishing forums quite often you will see a discussion about effectiveness and longevity of some of these commercial scents. Some say to replace them every year as they may go rancid to the point it may be more of a repellant to the fish than an attractant. One thing to remember that once a tidbit of information (right or wrong) is posted on the internet, it seems to become the gospel and is repeated over and over even though it may not be totally valid.
Some of the products do seem to have a shelf life possibly loosing effectiveness or even spoilage. When using any fish attractant, follow the manufacturers recommended application instructions which may vary greatly depending on the product. Keep all attractants out of extreme heat conditions, for example during the summer, keep your jars of scent out of the bright sun. Probably a good idea would be to keep your scent in your ice cooler or bait bucket while actively fishing. Others may say that they always keep theirs in a refrigerator during any time not on the water, which may prolong the shelf life. OK, so if any of this makes sense and you think it could generate more fish in your fish box, take it under consideration, accepting all or parts, or reject it.
It is also suggested that when you purchase new scent to date the bottom. I usually will write the date on a small piece of paper, place it on the bottom and then cover it with scotch tape to waterproof it.
Disposing of your old scent every year or so may seem expensive, but not if you add the cost of your boat, motor, trailer, towing vehicle, rod and reels, lures, your allocated time on the water etc., then consider that this one possible thing that may help fill your fish box appears to be a rather reasonable cost in the long run. Kind of somewhat akin to keeping your hooks sharp.
ProCure bait scents in
Salem, Oregon says, that their gels have a shelf life of from 5 to10 years
but their pure uncut water soluble liquids
have a shelf life of 3 to 5 years. However you want to keep them in a cool
area after used to maximize the shelf life time. If the content
of the water soluble scents become separated while in the bottle, a quick couple of shakes of the bottle
will blend the ingredients together and you’ll be good as new.
In talking to a factory rep at a Sportsman Show, Catcher Company, the manufacture of Smelly Jelly, in Hillsboro, Oregon. Their product is a gel-based and manufactured using nothing but food-based synthetics which they say has a shelf life of 10 years, and despite the smell, it was perfectly safe to eat if you choose to do so.
I for one, use a lot of the Catcher Company's Smelly Jelly and have some that may be approaching 10 years old. Yes, some times if forget and I leave it exposed to the sun, the color will fade out. He assured me that there is nothing in their product that will go rancid or deteriorate unless you leave the lid off for extended periods of time and on a warm day which then, some of the smell concentrate may evaporate. He did say that over time, the scent may settle to the bottom and if you used a table knife or similar stirrer you can re-blend the scent back into the carrier gel. What I do on old scent is to heat them up to do this by placing under a hot water tap or in a pan of hot water and then stirring the contents.
However he did indicate that my 10 years was probably stretching the usefulness time considerably and that he recommends replacing them on an average about every 3-4 years depending on the scent (some, like garlic is stronger than others). Now, like I say above, I have some old scent, however I generally do a smell test, if my old nose can not detect any odor similar to what is indicated on the label, maybe it has lost some of the scent, but a fish's smell is a lot better than mine, SO do I keep it or dispose of it? I will leave that up to you to make your own judgment call. I recently did my own smell test of a jar of OLD scrimp scent compared to a 2 year old unopened jar of the same. Actually the older jar had more smell than the new one. I have also heard a rumor that some scents increase smell as they age, maybe so ??
When asked, "how do you care for your scent after usage", he response was, that he usually places the container in the tackle box, which, goes in the garage which is fairly cool throughout the year. However, the best would be to place the container in the refrigerator in a plastic bag (to contain the smell from not contaminating other refrigerated items). Just make sure you keep it out of direct sunlight which will rapidly decrease shelf life.
Think about this, sure maybe the representative was trying to sell more product, but if I use my 10 year old product and it does not attract fish like my buddy's scent who is fishing next to me, maybe this rep. is right and wants me to catch fish, which will also help advertise his product instead of possibly bad mouthing it.
There are other scent companies who use the pure product, by grinding, concentrating, bait. One of these on the central Oregon coast recommends getting her scent and using it within less than a month.
The conscientcis among many fishermen is use your nose test. If it smells even somewhat like the label reads, it should be OK. You may want to warm it up and stir the contents before each season. However the most likely scent to go sour is water based, over the gel based.
One thing I have found is that after usage, many of the labels become unreadable. i have found that either Scotch Tape over the label, or sometimes I will carve the scent into the lid.
Clean Your Lures During Use : Many times in things pertaining to fishing, CLEANLINESS is next to GODLINESS. Therefore think of anything that you touch, or comes in contact with anything that may impart a offensive odor. One charter boat operator suggests that when your lure becomes contaminated with Jellyfish, to pull it out of service, replacing it with a clean lure. Take the contaminated lure, clean it thoroughly, let it soak in Lemon Joy for 1/2 hour, then dry for another 1/2 hour before using it again.
I have taken a slightly different and faster approach cleaning mine. Yes, clean all the Jellyfish parts off, wash off the lure in saltwater, dry it even with my handkerchief, then smear a liberal amount of some Smelly Jelly scent on the lure. It works, as it wasn't 20 minutes later that a 17# Chinook took that same lure.
Now let me tell you that one of the most pungent odors is tuna scent. I have tried canned tuna fish in net sacks or packed in Brad's Super Cut Plugs, but when I tried Mikes liquid tuna scent in one of these cut plugs, let me tell you, be sure the dispenser nozzle is closed tight as this is one scent that you do not want on your clothes or inside your tackle/gear bag. About the only way I could get the smell off me after a days fishing was to liberally use Boraxo and hot water. Then I suggest that you could store the used tube inside a plastic sandwich Zip-Lock bag.
Clean Your Lures After Use : One related thing here is that IF you do use scent on your lures, that it possibly can get rancid and or collect debris in your tackle box over time when not cleaned off after usage (and the sooner the better). All dedicated fishing guides make a point of carefully cleaning it off the lure before the end of the day. Therefore it will behoove you to make a practice to use Lemon Joy to wash off the scent before you put the lure away.
It is important to note that some fish attractants with natural by products may become toxic after a period of time. This not only becomes offensive to fish, but can also be hazardous to touch.
Do you clean your sardine wrapped KwikFish after using them and putting them away? How about cleaning your spinners that are attached to a lure that you have used salmon roe, tuna oil, shrimp, prawn, or even herring or anchovy? Then there is the attractant on your dodgers or flashers.
|No explanation needed|
One very easy method is
to purchase a painters 5 quart plastic bucket with a snap on lid. Fill
it with clean water then squirt a small amount of Lemon Joy soap into the
water. Use this to soak your lures and flashers in as soon as you pull
them off or change to others. If this does not remove the sticky
scent, spray the lure with WD-40 and let it set overnight, then use warm
soapy lemon Joy to finish the deal. Another thing I have found that
rejuvenates lures, (especially hookies) is found in the bottle shown below.
It is advertised as a degreaser and can be purchased at the Dollar Stores.
I use it initially, but an not sure as to if it may repel fish, so after
using this Oxygen Orange, I do my Lemon Joy program.
|LA's Totally Awesome Oxygen Orange degreaser|
Clean Anything That Touches Your Bait : One thing, to also do is to clean your bait container more than occasionally. Then how many of you even yearly, clean your cut plug fixture with soap and water? Right in plain sight, but overlooked.
This also pertains to men after they urinate. You are transferring your scent onto your hands AND then onto your line, leader AND bait. Wash your hands afterwards.
Detrimental Smells : Like it or not, mammals, humans included, are stuck with a scent that gives off a chemical that contains the amino acid L-serine, of which fish find very offensive. Some fisherman unfortunately have more L-serine in their system than others, this is most likely the problem with your fishing buddy who is in the dry spell all of his life. Also this is why some people just can not seem to catch fish as they give off more L-serine than others do. I knew twin brothers, one of which could catch fish blindfolded and one arm behind his back, while the other had to really try even to get a bite, this possibly was the situation with them.
And how many of you when tying your mono leaders or line to your terminal snap will wet the knot with your saliva to keep it from abrading when pulled tight? If you happen to be one of those who's body puts off lots of L-serine, you have just decreased your chances of catching a fish by a considerable multiplier.
It is interesting that with the number of fisherman using fish attractants, how few are concerned with the possibility of chasing the fish away with the chemicals that repel fish. Many common chemicals that ride to the water with the fisherman have a negative effect to Mr. Salmon. Or it could be he or she handles such items as tobacco products, sun screens, or insect repellents, which are all taboo to most fish. The use of any product on the market to remove the nasty scents we bring to the river are a good idea. Berkley’s Sportsman’s Odor Remover or Baitmate’s NON SCENTS Odor Eliminator and plain Lemon Joy seem to work well.
So what does that mean to you and I as a fisherperson? It means that salmon, as well as trout and other game fish, can smell you, or any contaminating scent rubbed on your line, leader or lures that you may have handled, without gloves.
have been conducted in fish ladders of dams and have shown that people who
give off very little L-serine can stand in the passageway with their shoes off and fish will continue
to move through, whereas people who give off lots of the chemical will stop all
upstream movement through these passageways.
There are other chemicals that the fish do not particularly like. Gasoline is one high on this list. So if you are refueling your gas tank or are connecting your fuel line to your motor and it leaks a bit, or you check the oil level in your towing vehicle engine, you may need to wash your hands if you want to catch any fish the rest of the day. Years ago, I knew a commercial salmon troller fisherman who was moored across the dock from me, he taught me many things, like before he started his inboard engine each morning, he would pull the dipstick to check his oil and turn on his engine's fuel shutoff valve. When he was finished, and was letting the engine warm up, but before he touched any of his gear, he would wash his hands. He also bought herring oil by the gallon and at the end of the day would put all his spoons in this oil overnight. This herring oil did 3 things. (1) it kept his lures from tarnishing, (2) it added a scent to the lure, and (3) it removed any of his possible bad smells off the lures. At the end of the day he always had more or bigger fish than the rest of the fleet.
Fisherpersons may find it advisable to carry one of the biodegradable soaps with them and wash their hands often to remove all odors possibly offensive to the fish.One common soap that has been used by many guides for years is the liquid dishwashing soap, Lemon scented Joy.
Another thing to remember is to wash your hands after using scent and before you eat lunch as some of this scent may not be good for your digestive tract. Also if you have a dog or cat as a pet, don't pet them before you leave for a day of fishing unless you was before fishing, as pets may also have odors that repels fish.
This article is not intended to blow you away with all the negative smells that we as fisherpersons can induce on our lures which can reduce our chances of catching a fish, but to make you to stop and think. OK, fish have been caught for years before any of this information became available. But in this day and age where fish seem to be scarcer along with competition being greater, can you afford to take the chance? Can you associate any of this information to some of your or your partner's experiences? Yes, I know we all have been catching fish, but are we just like a blind squirrel that finds an occasional acorn? Or could we improve and up our catch ratio into the 10% that catch fish instead of the 90% who just fish?
is next to Godlness" when it comes to fishing. And as mentioned
above, another salmon charter boat
skipper recommends when they encounter jellyfish, is to change out your gear,
and cut off 20' of your mainline. Remove ALL they jellyfish residue even to
the point of using a toothbrush to get it all from the swivels and knots.
Wash the entire gear off in soapy water and let it dry for 1/2 hour.
Then spray it all down with WD-40 and apply your scent before fishing that
again. Is this being clean or not, but for him it means catching
fish or not, and it is worth the effort.
He also uses a bucket of fresh water and soap to soak the flashers/leader-lures in overnight which keeps them clean and the hooks rust free. Most hooks that have been exposed to saltwater and then dried out, or put in your tackle box, the plating on the point will be thinner than the shank and will start to rust if not sprayed with a rust preventative.
AS mentioned above, if I could give one piece of advice that would guarantee more fish it would be to wash your hands with Lemon Joy dishwashing soap after going to the bathroom. Human sweat has generous amounts of L-Serine and male human crotches have…well have lots of L-serine. Use latex examining gloves to apply sunscreen or bug dope. Sunscreen has metal oxides in it and fish don’t like it. Guides who wear latex gloves do so for a reason other than to keep their hands clean.
This article started out as one of my shorter fishing articles,
but kind of expanded over time.
And it could probably one of the most important to fisherpersons.
Think about it, you may save for a lifetime or go deeply in debt to purchase your dream boat only to cut your chances of catching a fish by overlooking these bad smells.
Also a good fishing friend told me about buying a bottle of Lemon Joy, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Mix them 1/3 of each bottle into an empty bottle and keep this on your boat to wash your hands with this concoction. This not only cleans your hands but tends to heal the abrasions and cuts that we fisherpersons get at time. I have used it for years with good results.
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