Fishing scents are a common topic of debate among anglers. Some absolutely swear by them, while others say they don't work. But given the many different types of fishing scents on the market, it’s worth knowing more about what fishing scents are, how fishermen and women use them, and what the debate is all about.
The fact that there are so many fishing scents out there makes them a point of debate. Because not all fishing scents are the same in terms of what they’re made of or how they’re used, it's hard to say if they all work or not across the board. At the same time, there are a lot of differences between fish species, so what may get one type of fish to bite may not necessarily work for another.
A fishing scent is a substance you put on your bait, lure, fishing line, or hook to attract fish. Also called fish attractants, they are believed to appeal to the creatures’ sense of smell, which is one of their strongest senses. Fish typically use this sense to find food, avoid danger, or identify other fish species.
Different kinds of fishing scents
There are several different types of fishing scents on the market. Water-soluble scents are the most common type of fishing attractant. They're easy to apply and dissolve quickly in water. Oil-based scents are more concentrated, but some say that since they don’t dissolve in water, they’re not as effective. Fishing scents also come in powder and gel form.
You can make fish attractants at home, too, as some DIY instructions suggest, like this one:
Imitating scent cues
A number of fishing scents are designed to imitate the natural olfactory cues of baitfish, crawfish, or other prey. These scents can be effective at attracting fish by replicating the odors emitted by small fish and invertebrates, which may trigger a predatory response in forage fish and lead them to believe they’re in for a treat.
It’s often the case that these fishing scents don’t only draw in fish but also insects and other small creatures. That is to say, if you’re not successful in attracting the actual fish, you can at least attract their food sources, which can in turn draw in the fish.
Aside from drawing in fish, they’re also used to make the bait taste more natural to the fish. They also tend to bite harder on bait or lure that has been dabbed with a fishing scent. This gives anglers more time to detect the bite and effectively catch the fish.
Fishing scents are sometimes used to neutralize other scents that repel fish.
Scents that attract fish versus scents that repel
- parts of recently-killed fish
- human saliva
- anise oil
- cod liver oil
- tuna oil
On the other hand, scents that are believed to repel fish are:
- insect repellant
- scented soap, scented lotion, scented laundry detergent
- motor oil and other petroleum products
- the natural oils that humans produce
A good tip when handling substances like motor oil or bug spray is to wash them off before handling your gear so they don’t drive away the fish. In the case of the natural oils or cigarette smoke on human skin, some recommend masking or neutralizing them with a fishing attractant.
What species can you attract with fishing scents?
Some of the species that are said to be drawn to fishing scents are: bass, panfish, crappie, trout, walleye, carp, flounder, bullheads, catfish, salmon, tuna, king mackerel, and tarpon.
How to use fishing scents
Fishing scents are rubbed on tackle like lures, hooks, and fishing line. Make sure to apply a little at a time. Don't pour it into the water, and don’t forget to check the instructions from the manufacturer for their recommended way of applying.
Use with caution
It’s always a good idea to check local fishing regulations before fishing to make sure you’re in the clear. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Minnesota, for example, explicitly says you can’t use a particular product called BaitCloud or other similar products that use a combination of scent, sound, and visual attractants like light (unless it’s part of the lure) to draw in fish.
To quote the DNR’s warning: "Placing any substance in state waters that may injure, impact reproduction, or taint the flesh of wild animals is prohibited." "While products claim to be innocuous to fish and the environment, little is known if concentrated or repeated use of various substances placed in the water could be harmful to fish, wild animals, or aquatic plants."
Other reasons you may want to be cautious when using fishing scents is that if you’re trying to attract smaller fish like crappie or perch, you may instead trigger larger predator species like musky or northern pike. Ditto if you’re targeting very small fish, as the scent may overwhelm their senses and prevent them from detecting your offerings!
Fishing scent skeptics
So can fishing scents automatically turn a zero-catch day into one of unprecedented fishing success? No, not really. While they may help you attract some fish, remember that other factors like the weather, season, moon phase, temperature, or the lure you chose are also crucial. When one gets so fixated on fishing scents, they can tend to ignore these other important factors. And then there remain a fair number of anglers who still swear they’re all gimmicks and would rather pay attention to the other factors that can help you get more bites, like casting more accurately or better bait presentation.
If you’re looking to catch more fish, it may be worth testing out some of the ones available in the market or even whipping up your own homemade version. But remember that it’s important to use these with caution and a good understanding of what attracts and repels fish. Lastly, be sure to always check state and local regulations on what type of scent is legal where you're fishing.