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Scents and Attractants, Do They Really Work?

by Carlton Holliday

Do scents really work? Do scents attract fish? I am asked these questions many times from novices and pro fishermen alike. I know that most any articles you read stress the importance of scent to one degree or another.

A lot of scientific research shows some fish are drawn to chemical sources from hundreds of yards away. Other studies indicate fish can recognize aquatic plants and other fish in the same school by individual smell. A fish’s ability to smell is documented to be approximately 1,000 times better than a dog. Fish Biologists also proved in some fish species that a fish’s system of smell can double and even triple as the fish age. So how does a bass smell?

Bass have two nostrils on each side of their snout. One is the anterior nostril and the other is the posterior nostril. Water flows into the anterior nostril, over the olfactory nerves, and back out through the posterior nostril. No link exists between the sets of nostrils and their throat. As the water holding the scent molecules flows across the olfactory nerves, a message is sent to the brain, where the scent is classified as a positive or negative scent. Bass then act on the sense by a conditioned response.

Let us look at the normal behavior of a bass. Bass find their prey by sight or sound first. The last sense activated is smell. It still plays a critical role in a bass’s life. When a bass hears or feels the presence of bait he comes over to investigate the movement or sound. As the bass moves closer to the bait, he is expecting the final stimulus, smell, to be coming from the bait. As he strikes and crushes the bait, he is expecting confirmation of the flavor of the prey by his sense of smell. Smell is an important final stimulus.

I also know that certain scents like gasoline or oil will repel bass. When reading articles, most of them will stress the point of keeping your hands free of such things as gasoline, oil, nicotine and sun tan lotion. You can buy hand cleaner specially formulated for fishermen to clean their hands periodically. If you eat in the boat while fishing, certain foods or sauces will provide a negative smell. The best advice is to use some of the hand cleaner and wash your hands frequently. In some research circles, thought is that when a bass is caught and released, it emits a chemical into the water that is interpreted by other bass as a negative smell therefore the other bass quit biting. I have seen this happen on numerous occasions. You are catching fish from one area, maybe two or three, and you release the last one caught and you get no more strikes. You know there are still fish there but they just quit you cold. This has happened to me more than once.

In response to a positive smell, bass generally will hold onto a worm emanating a positive scent for a longer time. This gives you an advantage of being able to get a good hook set and catching the fish. Three scents that appear to be positive scents are salt, anise, and garlic. Anise and garlic may be masking scents rather than attracting scents.

Now think about this: The smells or scents are transmitted to the fish by the water surrounding the fish. Now the old adage about oil and water comes into play. Many scents are oil based and although some of the oil molecules do disperse on their own, they frequently do not last long. This makes it necessary to add these scents quite frequently. Water based scents are just as bad or worse. These scents can, without drying the bait off, be thrown off the bait by casting. If you are buying these types of scents, it is going to get expensive. The scents that utilize fish oil as a base stay on the bait quite well and disperse readily in the water leaving a “scent trail”. Baits that have the scents “built in” like Yum or Gulp baits work very well also.

If you look at most worm packaging, you will notice that a lot of them have built in scents of one kind or another. Most of these contain garlic or salt and work well.

This is what my wife and I found out after a few years of experimenting. When we practiced for tournaments, one of us would use a scent product while the other would not. After 4 or 5 months, we discovered that the one using the scented worm was catching more fish. Not extraordinary numbers more but enough of a modest amount more to notice. We noted that the bass tended to hit the worm harder and hold on to the worm longer thus providing many more opportunities to get a good hook set. We obtained a sponsorship from Fish Formula and utilized the crawfish formula scent while we worm fished. We also found another product called “Worm Oil” manufactured by Baitsense and used it with modest success. I honestly don’t know whether either product attracts fish, but I do believe the products do make the bass hold on just a little longer thus providing the time to get a good hook set. If scents work to any degree, that may give you an advantage thus putting a few more fish in the live well. I think it is worth a small investment.

One word of caution about using most scents. The scents can be messy and you must be very careful with some scents, as they will stain your boat’s carpet. I had better luck putting the scent into a round plastic container and just dipping the worm into the scented formula. When I finished fishing for the day, I would put a matching cover on the container and store it until the next trip.

Carlton “Doc” Holliday and his wife, Darlene “Dee” Holliday only tournament fished together for 5 years. In late 1992, Carlton had a heart attack thus the early retirement ended along with the professional fishing career.

All told, both individually and as a team, Doc and Dee won over 30 bass tournaments and placed in the top 5 in over 70 bass tournaments. The last 3 years of their career as professional bass fishermen were spent winning the Arkansas Guys and Gals Championship in 1991, Doc finishing seventh overall in the Arkie Division of the Redman Circuit in 1991 and becoming eligible to fish the Redman Regional Tournament in Columbus Mississippi where he finished 20th. Also in 1990, Doc fished in the Mr. Bass of Arkansas Championship on Lake Ouachita and finished third. Career winnings estimated over $85,000.00.

Carlton “Doc” Holliday and his wife, Darlene “Dee” Holliday are both retired and live at Joplin, Arkansas two minutes from Lake Ouachita near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Email us at mailto:carltonholliday@yahoo.com.

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