Fish attractants – do they REALLY work?

Berkley Gulp Rub On Scent product

Lure fishermen swear by them on quiet days, but do scents really help your chances to catch more fish?

The truth is there have been no credible, independent studies from respected scientists of sufficient size to resolve this question.

But we lean towards believing that scents do work for a few reasons:

  1. Tournament fishermen use them
  2. We have experienced success with them
  3. Fish do have a strong sense of smell so intuitively it should be a feeding trigger

We’ve all experienced those quiet days when you know the fish are there, or you can actually see them, but nothing can convince them to bite your fishing lure.

Scents can attract fish

This is where scents and attractants are supposed to be able to help attract fish. Adding an odor that fish associate with food can make the difference in these situations.

Popular fishing scents include smells such as garlic, anise, crustacean odours such as crawfish. Fish scents such as shad scent and ingredients such as salt and even coffee are thought to be effective too.

Scents can mask odors fish don’t like

The other way in which attractants work, in the eyes of many anglers and tackle experts, is to mask odours that repel fish.

These negative scents can be imparted to the fishing lure from your hands and include bug spray, sunscreen, tobacco and soap.

Even the natural scent of your hands can repel some fish according to some leading anglers.

Do fish hold on to scented baits longer?

And the third reason fishing scents are popular is because fishermen – including many pro anglers – believe that fish that rely on smell will hold on to a scented bait for longer. This gives you more time as an angler to detect the strike and set the hook.

Which fish like attractants?

Fish species such as carp and catfish are well known for using their sense of smell in finding prey, but scents certainly work with fish that are first and foremost sight-based feeders such as largemouth bass or pike.

In cloudy water sight is nowhere near as big a trigger as in a clearwater scenario so fish are forced to rely on their sense of smell, and detection of movement, or go hungry. Here is where a fish scent on your fishing lure can help you get more bites and make a big difference to your catch rate.

Should you put scent on all your lures?

We think so. Certainty soft plastics such as worms, curltails and crawdads are the type of fishing lure that are most associated with scents and attractants. However we think it is worth putting a fish scent on your crankbait lures, jerkbaits, surface lures, spinnerbaits and jigs too. You can have confidence that it will lead to more strikes and a higher catch rate.

Do all scents work?

All the legitimate scents out there have a use and will work on certain species in certain conditions. But beware of scents that are supposed to work but are actually myths – this includes WD40 as a fish attractant. It doesn’t work and will scare more fish off than it attracts!

Can you make your own scents?

Yep for sure. Here is a good example of how to make a fish attractant.

Author

  • Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He is a regular on fly fishing podcasts and appeared in the international fly fishing film Predator.

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