Thinking About Stinking: Is there a sweet smell for success? – by Dick Pearson

Hi folks. This topic came to mind as I sat in a tree bow hunting in early November.

This bow season, I really tinkered with scent. Eliminating mine (carbon lined clothing, spray-on scent eliminators, etc.) and trying to attract deer with various sorts of homemade and commercial concoctions. Why? Curiosity, and, of course, trying to be more successful.

Are there parallels here between this and muskie fishing? You bet. Many in fact. Research shows fish, like deer, are very scent sensitive and can be attracted or repelled by incredibly small amounts of scent-amounts we humans can’t come close to detecting. Further, when it comes to scent, both deer hunting and muskie fishing are shrouded with a mixture of fact, fallacy and commercial hype.

I’ll set the stage with some actual incidents.

A friend and I are bouncing around trying to cast in 4 foot waves on a big Minnesota lake and he has to relieve himself. In his attempt to ‘go’ without falling in the lake, he pees on one of my rods and the lure rigged on it. Shortly after, in response to a follow, I catch a fish on that lure. Did scent play a role? Who knows? Doubtful I suspect, and I don’t recommend trying to do your friends a similar favor.

After another follow, I dip my bucktail in a bucket of mashed up fish remains and water, throw back and catch the fish. Did scent play a role? Possibly, but not likely. Years ago I often did this until my wife realized the spray hitting her off my baits wasn’t only water.

A client I’m guiding sprays WD-40 on his lure and shortly after catches a nice one. Did scent play a role? No clue, but doubtful.

On one of those Lake Of The Woods magical evenings when fish seem to be everywhere, a client that sprayed his hands and lure with a DEET based bug repellant sees no fish while his friend and I have follow after follow and catch a couple on figure eights. Did scent play a role? Likely so.

I spill gas and oil on my hands and lure and see nothing for hours while others do. Did scent play a role? Not likely (much to my surprise) according to the research.

On the other hand, after that spill I wash my hands and lure with a certain soap and see nothing. Did scent play a role? Very possible according to the same research.

Should we really care about a fish’s sense of smell? I think so, although it may be for reasons different than you’d expect.

I’m a curious inquisitive sort and have realized for years that muskies and pike primarily rely on their sight and lateral lines to feed successfully. I also have known for a long time that their sense of smell wasn’t nearly as acute as that of salmon, catfish or sharks (which may be able to detect chemical levels as low as one part per billion). But I’ve always hoped/thought that we should be able to trigger those ‘nose on’ followers with scent; I’ve been intrigued with current and how muskies relate to it for years and have felt scent may help in current areas; and-a big AND-I certainly want to do everything possible to at least avoid repelling the few fish I find!

So, after reviewing the research I’ve found, and after years of experimenting, where do I stand now on these issues?

Well you’ll have to make up your own minds but I feel its doubtful we can trigger followers with scent; I feel scent may help when fishing certain current areas (particularly if you stay in one area awhile), and I do think we ought to still err on the safe side and avoid things that may repel fish.

This subject would take a book but here’s a quick overview supporting my conclusions on these points and at the end I’ll cite some sources you can/should access to reach your own.

Triggering Follows:
1. No matter how clear the water looks, it’s loaded with suspended matter, minerals and organic compounds to such a level that our efforts to put out scent are puny at best.
2. Scent dispersion in water is slow, and besides taking time, this dispersion is easily interrupted and very uneven. You’d likely have to stay and cast (dispersing the scent-in effect, chumming) an area a long time to get the scent out.
3. Turbulence adds to the unevenness of scent dispersion and our lures themselves probably make a definable ‘scent trail’ an impossibility.
4. Many of the scents we use are oil based and therefore water insoluble. In short, they may create an oil slick, but don’t disperse scent at all. They may act as a masking agent however.

Current and Scent:
Studies show that many species can and do track prey by following odor (scent) in a steady current environment. This steady stream of odor allows fish to home in on prey. I couldn’t find any research regarding pike or muskies to this effect, but its been shown with respect to Largemouth bass. Guess I’m just an incurable current freak, but I think scent may well have a positive effect if you’re in a current environment.

Bad Odors:
To me this is a no-brainer. We ought to make every effort to find out what repels fish and then avoid these things. Hey, I know the factors above such as uneven and slow dispersion apply to the bad as well as ‘good’ odors, but why take a chance if it’s easy to avoid? Read the materials I’ve cited below-you’ll be amazed at what attracts and repels fish, even in minute amounts. I promise.

Finally, do you believe they pay me for this stuff? Don’t answer please.

Remember: thinking is just being thoughtful.

See you next issue.

Recommended sources:
1.Buy and read,’ Knowing Bass The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish’ by Keith A. Jones Ph.D. (The Lyons Press) Dr. Jones has worked at the Berkley Fish Research Center for nearly 20 years and this book makes this subject and many others understandable and interesting. It really will help you catch more fish.

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