Do Scents Matter?

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Presented by Mercury Marine

Prefer to listen? Check out our latest podcast to hear Ang and Pete discuss the importance of scented baits!

How Fish Smell:

When it comes to fish senses, the lateral line gets a lot of attention. However, those two little holes on the front of the fish’s face perhaps deserve a bit more recognition from anglers.

Unlike humans, whose nostrils are designed for both breathing and smelling, the nostrils of fish (also known as nares) have one sole purpose, to detect scents in the water. These holes force water to pass through a small area where the sensory cells are located and exit through the back of the nostrils. These scents are then processed by the fish and allow it to do everything from avoiding predators, finding spawning grounds, and even locating mates.

These senses are so sensitive, in fact, that it has been found that a freshwater bass can detect 1/200th of a drop of substance in 100 gallons of water. Additionally, many predatory fish can detect a prey fish odour source at 25 feet

Why Use Scents?

Freshwater fish like Pike, Bass, Walleye, and Carp have these highly developed olfactory (smell) organs and are attracted to certain scents. That’s why so many freshwater bait manufacturers—especially of plastic baits—build the scent right in. Otherwise, scents are sold in containers as paste, fluids and gels. And no matter how you put it on the bait, they work!

For anglers, the most important thing about scenting bait is that it covers up the human scent. Any baits or rigs like today’s hair rig, that require a lot of handling to set up, put your hookup rate at risk if your scent is not masked. With their acute sense of smell, fish will also turn away from the slightest scent of gas, suntan lotion, or any foreign chemical.

The other side of the coin, of course, is, if they like it, they’ll keep that bait in their mouth just that moment or two longer. That will jack up your hookup rate for sure! There are some anglers out there who won’t touch a bait until they’ve used that scent as hand cream. (This is probably not very popular at home, but fishing is a serious business after all.)

Oil or Water: Selecting Your Scent

Scents have been on the market for a long time, but it has only been in the last decade that people have begun to question their validity. One of the main points of controversy has stemmed from the oil vs. water debate.

Historically, the majority of scents on the market have been oil-based, with manufacturers touting their ability to remain on the bait and survive cast after cast while retaining their strong fish-seducing scents. However, in recent years, primarily spawned from the success of Bait Fuel, people have been pushing back and questioning whether oil-based scents are even capable of being effective.

The argument from this camp goes that fish are incapable of detecting oil, as their senses are only capable of smelling or tasting substances that are dissolved in water. For this reason, as the claim goes, oil-based scents may smell appealing (or repulsive in some cases) to humans, but, to the fish, they are going completely unnoticed.

Pete and I can assure you that we have caught plenty of fish on oil-based scents. But was this all in our heads? Or do these scents really work? Let us know in the comments below!

Angelo Viola

ANGELO VIOLA is one of Canada’s most recognized and respected outdoor enthusiasts. His passion for the outdoors and skills as a creative director / producer have served him well crafting a broadcasting career in TELEVISION and RADIO that spans over 30 years. His relentless pursuit of the ultimate adventure and the ability to share the moment with audiences landed him the “best jobs in the world”, co host of The Fish’n Canada Show, The Outdoor Journal Television Show and Outdoor Journal Radio. In 2010 Angelo was inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall Of Fame making him a true fishing legend.

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