Many an eastern angler will remember 1954 as the Year of the Big Stink, for it was then that ocean fishermen discovered scented lures. Surf casters have roamed the beaches these past months trailing fumes of menhaden, and charter cruisers reek like New Bedford whalers.
The use of olfactory come-ons is old stuff to fresh-water anglers. Generations of catfishermen have placed their faith in pungent mixtures of coagulated blood, Limburger cheese, chicken entrails and other ingredients compounded according to secret formulas handed down from father to son. But over the years scented lures have been largely neglected by the newer cult of ocean sport fishermen.
FISH LOVE SMELLY BAITS
True, the practice of "chumming" had for some time flourished among both commercial and sport fishermen in quest of tuna, bluefish and mackerel. Chum (menhaden and herring put through a grinder and tossed overboard) creates an oily slick—in effect a scented line—which attracts.
Now such attractors have been adapted to artificial lures. Among the first developments was a hollow copper sinker packed with cotton batting which could be soaked in cod liver oil to act as a miniature chum pot for bottom fishermen. Then a few adventurous spirits began drilling holes in plugs and jigs and inserting wads of cotton impregnated with homemade scents. Eel slime, menhaden, squid, fish livers, bloodworms and clams, mixed in varying proportions with holding agents and laced with anise oil, simmered on the stoves of city apartments and seashore cottages.
A number of these experiments ended in failure and divorce, while a few of the more successful compounds eventually reached the market on a commercial basis. But the great awakening did not really occur until this year when one fisherman told another and the panic was on. Overnight, a bottle of perfume became a vital essential in the salt-water angler's kit.
A few fishermen still contrive their own scents according to closely guarded formulas, but they are in the minority now. Today any angler with a spare dollar can choose from a number of heady liquids, "one drop of which," according to the ads, will draw fish like a magnet.
And what of these claims and guarantees? Do scented lures actually catch more fish than unperfumed ones? A great deal more research will be necessary before a definite answer can be given. Meanwhile, it is possible to make a few cautious assertions based upon the experience of a wide number of fishermen this past season. Fundamentally, the use of scent will not per se guarantee a string of fish. It will not compensate for sloppy casting or for fishing barren grounds. On the credit side, it can lend added conviction to a skillfully handled lure.
Tests have already proved that fish have a highly developed sense of smell. One such experiment was conducted by a New England sporting-goods dealer who kept a large brook trout on display in a tank. A continuous stream of fresh water fell in a miniature cataract at one end of the tank, and it was the dealer's custom to drop an occasional worm behind this foaming curtain. The trout, staring morosely through the glass at the opposite end of the 10-foot enclosure, couldn't possibly see the worm, but within seconds it would swim behind the waterfall to pick up the waiting morsel.
Thus it seems obvious that fish, like other creatures, rely upon smell as well as sight and sound in their search for food. And it is also through these senses that they determine the merits of a passing object as a possible item of diet. If a lure looks like a bait fish and sounds like a bait fish as it splashes through the water, two obstacles have been successfully overcome. If it also smells like a bait fish its attractiveness is thereby greatly enhanced.