Trick Bass With Scent

The way to a Lunker's hit is through its nose

Scented bass lures have become the stuff of strong sales pitches in the past few years. They come in two forms, built-ins and add-ons. One of the most frequently asked questions is, Do scents really make sense? I believe they do.

Adding scents to fishing lures is not a modern phenomenon. I first became aware of the practice back in the 1930s when I was a kid working in a local sporting goods store in Ohio. I managed the fishing tackle and waited on many of the area’s better fishermen, who came in not only to buy tackle, but to deliver or get the latest scuttlebutt on where the bigger bass were biting. Anybody who liked to talk about fishing spoke my language, and through such informal chats I learned about the enhancing scents that anglers added to their lures.

Among the wonder scents these wizards of fishing employed were vanilla, peppermint, mustard and licorice from their home cupboards. From pharmacy shelves they used esoteric extracts such as asafetida and myrhh. While some of those fishermen of yesteryear used such add-ons to attract bass by their senses of smell and taste, other anglers used them to mask repulsive odors from insect repellents and outboard motor fuel.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that scents charged onto the bass-fishing scene in a big way. At first the new generation of scents were add-ons from spray bottles or other applicators (Fish Formula, B.A.N.G., Yum, Dr. Juice). Scent types included extracts and oils from many kinds of creatures: crayfish, minnows, leeches and worms. Salt- or garlic- impregnated baits came next.

Then a variety of lure makers began adding their own concoctions to popular soft-plastic types such as grubs, worms, crayfish, shad and hellgrammites. They sold like hotcakes on a cold winter morning. For a good while, I remained skeptical about whether it was added scent or the natural appearance and feel of soft-plastics that was catching bass. I invited one lure maker to conduct a test with me, my aim being to settle the question once and for all.

I suggested that each of us would rig two outfits: one with a scented lure and the other with the same lure, but unscented. Instead of making multiple casts with one lure, we would make one cast with a scented lure, then switch to the unscented and alternate the lures throughout a day’s fishing.

I figured that such a test would preclude the possibility of hitting a hot spot for multiple catches and unfairly tilting the test in favor of either type of lure. The lure manufacturer said he would get back to me, but he never did. I still hold that my approach would make a valid test.

[pagebreak] Proof is in the plastics
Three years ago, I witnessed a demonstration that convinced me that scent-added lures do catch more bass. I was strolling around a sport show and joined a crowd watching a pro fisherman who was in the process of demonstrating various lures and tackle atop a giant aquarium on wheels that was swarming with bass of all sizes.

The angler tore off pieces of a plastic worm and tossed them into the tank. A big bass suddenly rushed up and slurped in one of the chunks with a flaring of its gills, but then spit out the plastic. After noting the fish’s reaction, the fisherman asked the crowd to watch what happened when he dropped pieces of a Berkley Power Worm in the water. He pitched in chunks of the same size as before, but this time the bass sucked them in and swallowed them. I have been using Power Worms since that revealing episode. And Berkley (Pure Fishing) deserves credit for investing a fortune in necessary laboratory equipment to conduct tests at its research lab in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

A researcher there, Dr. Keith Jones, has conducted dozens of studies of bass over the years and discovered what triggers positive olfactory reactions.

It’s all extremely scientific, but the research and subsequent producct testing have revealed that scenting lures to emulate natural foods will trigger strikes. Basically, what Jones and his fellow researchers did was run lures of various types around a large, circular aquarium holding bass of all sizes. Then they observed how the fish reacted when different scents were applied. For the hard baits tested, the addition of scents doubled the number of bass strikes over the non-scented. Also, bass held onto scented lures three times longer than non-scented lures. While adding scents to soft-plastics did not increase the takes by bass dramatically, the fish did hold onto them significantly longer, which would provide an angler with more hook-setting time.

Jones is preaching to the choir. I’m already a believer and you will be, too, if you give scents a try. If you’re serious about catching more bass, douse your favorite lures with scents or use baits with attractants already added.