Nothing exemplifies the buying psyche of America's bass anglers better than their philosophical approach to fish attractants. If there's a chance that a smelly potion will get them more bites — even if there is some doubt in their own minds — they want it. "One of the keys to tournament fishing is figuring out how to get one or two bites a day," says Texas pro and scent devotee Alton Jones. "Scent is one of those things that can give you an extra bite. If I can do that every day as a pro, I could add another wing to the house."It has been more than 20 years since Fish Formula convinced anglers that applying scent and flavored ingredients to a plastic lure increased their chances of catching bass. They did it by educating anglers about how well bass smell objects from a distance and how they will reject objects that lack attractive tastes. (Fans of the original Fish Formula will be glad to know that the company is back in business, with a variety of attractants and scent-impregnated soft plastic lures. Contact www.fishformula.com; 800-874-6965.)
And while the phenomenon has lost much of its early intrigue, it remains a multimillion dollar market that includes numerous companies marketing special potions in a variety of forms.
None has been more successful or more serious about scent and flavor enhancers than Berkley, one of the first to deliver soft plastic baits embedded with a proprietary fish alluring formula. The Spirit Lake, Iowa, manufacturer (www.purefishing.com; 877-777-3850) developed a research laboratory and hired a staff of scientists to refine its Power Bait line and develop additional products. "We have tested tens of thousands of flavors on fish in our labs over the years," says John Prochnow, product innovation manager. "We know our attractants work, and we've got the data to back it up." As good as the scientific evidence has been that some add-on attractants do work, they aren't foolproof. The early market attracted a flurry of "snake oils" that had little appeal to bass, so many anglers lost faith.
Furthermore, early spray-on products were messy, and some contained ingredients that not only stained boat carpets, but also literally ate away the glue that secured them to the floor. And with many soft plastic companies now impregnating their lures with attractants, the need for liquid or paste attractants diminished.
That may be changing, however, as more of today's anglers appear to be turning to a variety of attractants for help in everyday fishing "Our sales have grown every year, and we're up five times over what we were last year," said Mike Borger of Catcher Co., manufacturers of Smelly Jelly. "Bass fishermen seem to be driving that market."
Jones says the reason is simple: Anglers want an edge, and with the fishing pressure on most lakes today, a flavored or scented lure is more likely to convince a finicky bass to strike. He applies Yum (www.lurenet.com; 800-531-1201) to the company's Yum soft plastic baits, even though they have scent baked into them."There are probably days when it doesn't make a difference, but I've seen many scenarios where I've drastically outfished another guy in the boat who wasn't using an attractant," he adds.No one has explained it better than Bill Dance, who offered this analogy to Bassmaster in 1986:Throw a dog a sponge that is shaped and colored like a weenie, and he'll turn up his nose," Dance described. "But dip that sponge in gravy and toss it at the dog and see what happens. You'll need a new sponge!"
The same theory applies to bass, according to Dance. A lure may look like food, yet there are times when appearance alone isn't enough to get a fish interested."But if you add some scent to it, this might be enough extra enticement to cause it to strike," he explains. "It's just one more way to add appeal to a bait. And the more appeal it has, the more strikes you're going to get."Veteran pro Woo Daves is a firm believer, noting he has had countless experiences where the addition of a fish attractant seemed to make a difference. Daves was one of the first anglers to use fish attractants.
"One of the best examples occurred when I was doing a Bass Pro Shops seminar on the Hawg Trough," says Daves. "I made 30 casts with a worm into the tank and never got a bite. But when I sprayed my bait with Jack's Juice (www.jacksjuice.com; 800-835-FISH), a3-pounder grabbed the lure before it could hit the bottom."
Marty Stone, who has used Bang attractants (www.gambler-bang.com; 954-969-1772) since 1996, tells a similar story. After 10 seminars had been given at the Trough and the bass in the large aquarium had seen a number of lures, Bang owner Mike Sherman sprayed his bait before taking his turn."The most bites anyone had gotten during a seminar was three," says the North Carolina pro. "Mike made 30 casts and got 30 consecutive bites."While those examples were not in a natural environment, they clearly show that there are some benefits to scented lures.
"I am such a strong believer, that I won't use an attractant during tournament practice because I don't want the bass to hold on to the bait for very long," Stone adds. "It's not easy to shake off a bass that has bit a treated lure, and those are less likely to bite during the tournament."Daves acknowledges that use of an attractant doesn't guarantee strikes, nor is it necessary when the fish are real aggressive."I think it's most effective on days when the bite is slow and you have to keep a jig or worm in the cover for more than a few seconds," he describes. "In some flipping situations, you've got to shake the bait or jiggle it in the cover to get their attention. The attractant gives them one more reason to bite, and when they do, they definitely hold on to the bait longer."Kentucky pro David Walker says he prefers Bang scent and taste additives when fishing muddy water.
Under those conditions, the fish are not going to feed by sight and must rely on their other senses, especially their ability to smell," he says. "Anytime you can make it easier for the fish to find your bait, or make it more appealing, you're going to get a few more bites."Connecticut pro Terry Baksay says he's seen Craw-Cane (www.craw-cane.com; 901-465-4692) granulated attractant make a big difference when fishing tubes for smallmouth bass. In fact, while practicing for a BASS event on Lake St. Clair, Mich., he had to switch to untreated lures because the smallies were swallowing the bait."I think it is more beneficial in cold water when the fish aren't overly aggressive," he explains. "When guiding at home, I'll have clients fish a treated lure while I fish one without an attractant, and they invariably get more bites."
Shad. Crawfish. Salt. Garlic. Shrimp. Nightcrawler. The flavors of fish attractants read like the selection board at an underwater Baskin Robbins. Which one produces the best results?That depends upon whom you ask. The pros' preferences are nearly as broad as the selection, and they're built primarily around their own confidence in that flavor.
As a rule, they all agree that salt is a necessary ingredient to soft plastic baits, which is one reason so many soft plastic companies have impregnated their lures with it.Kevin VanDam says he believes bass hold salty baits better because salt is a component of blood."Anytime you can put something on or in a bait that makes a fish hold it longer, it's a good idea," he adds.Even Berkley adds "bio salt" to its Power Baits, noting that the additional ingredient makes them "24 percent more effective," according to Prochnow. He says Bio Salt is a combination of the ions that duplicate that of salt in the blood of baitfish."The problem is that a lot of companies are using basic table salt, and while fish will respond somewhat to that, our tests show it's not as effective as many anglers believe," he says.Shad and crawfish formulas rank among the most popular add-on attractants, with garlic a close third.
"Most of the time, I use the combination scent that includes shad and crawfish because I know at least I'm 50 percent right," says Stone. "Now, if it's during a full moon, I will switch to strictly crawfish scent because I've found there are crawfish hatches during those periods. Or, if I'm fishing around gravel, rocks or buckbrush areas, I use crawfish, because I think that's what the bass are keying on."VanDam, who also prefers crawfish, recalls an unusual experience when a shad scent made a believer out of him."I usually rely on attractants for soft plastics in jigs, but when I won on Lake Lanier, Ga., a few years ago, a shad attractant helped me catch fish on a spinnerbait," he remembers. "I was fishing clear water and getting strikes, but I couldn't hook them, even when I added a trailer hook. I began soaking my skirts with shad attractant, and the bass would come back and get the bait after they hit and missed it."Most anglers can understand why natural scents are appealing to bass, but there's nothing natural about garlic.
"Who knows why? Maybe bass like Italian food — but it has always been deadly for me," says Texan Kelly Jordon, who uses Lake Fork Tackle's Hawg Wild (www.lakeforktackle.com; 866-213-9211) spray-on attractant. "I really believe bass hang on to it longer."Walker also is a believer, but has a different theory."It's not a natural scent, but it has a strong odor, and I think it covers up negative odors that can get onto your lures," he explains. "I think the fact that scents mask odors is an equally important factor."Berkley scientists have proved that some odors do elicit negative reactions from bass. Among the most negative are insect repellents, tobacco, sunscreen, cleaning agents and even some chemicals found in fast foods.Oil based vs. water solubleA common debate among manufacturers is the value of oil-based attractants and water-soluble versions.Proponents of oil-based attractants say they stay on the lure longer, while water-soluble advocates say those products disperse in the water better, drawing fish to the lure.
Berkley's Prochnow agrees that water-soluble attractants must be applied more often and don't stay on the bait as well. However, he adds that most oil-based attractants only cover up negative odors and coat the fish's taste buds so that it can't taste positive or negative flavors.For a fish to taste or smell an additive, it has to be water-soluble," he explains. "Those positive flavors send messages to the brain that tell the fish the object is good to eat."
For most pros, the only characteristic they care about in a fish attractant is the confidence it gives them.
There have been numerous times when I got a bite right after spraying my bait," says Walker. "Adding scents should become as routine as checking your hooks for sharpness. A little bit of positive reinforcement not only gets you a few more bites, but it also is great for the confidence and helps keep you on your toes."
More tips for using attractants
Spray-on fish attractants lubricate soft plastic baits so they slide through grass and brush better. Adding a scent to a plastic worm reduces the chances of it wrapping around a limb when pitched into a bush. The spray-on Slime-It formula from Spike-It Bait Co. (www.spike-itbaits.com; 706-494-6620) is especially slick. Oil-based attractants also soften some plastic baits and enhance their action.
Increase the effectiveness of a scent-impregnated soft plastic bait by scraping or "roughing up" the lure to expose more of the attractant and draw it to the surface.
Pack attractants into the hollow cavity of a tube bait. The natural vacuum of the tube releases the scent slowly.
Douse a lure in an attractant when fishing bedding bass. The scent or oily trail may be just enough to cause the bass to pick up the lure or hold it long enough for you to set the hook.
Some attractants with natural components have a limited shelf life and can spoil over time, so replace last year's bottle with a fresh attractant.
Add a splash of color as well as scent by dipping the tails of your soft plastics in Spike-It's Dip-n-Glo Plastic Worm dyes, available in several colors and in garlic, crawfish and gamefish flavors.
Consider tackle items designed for scent. For example, Extra Edge (www.extraedgefishing.com; 888-258-0616) markets "Scent Sinkers" that offer a chamber for a slow release of attractants onto the lure. Also, Ambush Lures' hard baits (www.ambushlures.com; 660-562-3838) have a flow-through chamber in which attractants can be added to leave a scent trail as the bait is retrieved.Scent delivery systemsScented products come in forms other than the traditional spray-on liquid.For example, Craw-Cane (www.craw-cane.com; 901-465-4692) is a granulated formula that includes salt and dehydrated crawfish. When the granules are added to a bag of soft plastic baits, the lures absorb the natural scent, according to the manufacturer."There is no mess, and your baits are taking on the attractant even when you're not fishing," says Connecticut pro Terry Baksay.Gels offer another option. Because they adhere to the bait better, it is believed that they work longer and require fewer applications.
"That's one reason I use Smelly Jelly on my jigs and jerkbaits," says Harry Charcalis of Gilmanton, N.H., 2001 Bassmaster Classic Eastern Federation qualifier. "Perhaps it's just a confidence thing, but I've seen many instances when I wasn't catching fish on a jig, applied Smelly Jelly, and began catching fish." Smelly Jelly (Catcher Co., 503-648-2643) also comes in a "Sticky Liquid."
A similar product, "Worm Fizzion" (www.Fizzion-power.com; 812-883-9843), is a thick gel attractant that produces bubbles and a popping sound when activated with water.
The newest innovation is Berkley's Bubble Up tablets, which dissolve in water to leave a scent trail that resembles blood. A line of soft plastic baits designed to hold the tablets also has been introduced.
Scents put up in tubes make it easy to apply just what you need without spilling the attractants on carpet or clothing. MegaStrike (www.megastrike.com; 866-4LIMITS) comes in a package the size and shape of a tube of toothpaste, making it easy to keep in a tacklebox.