Sunday, October 4 , 2015, 3:24 am | Overcast 64º

Captain’s Log: Making Sense of Fish Scents

Capt. David Bacon with a freshly caught calico bass. He says calico bass care about scents, and they are a blast to catch on light tackle.
Capt. David Bacon with a freshly caught calico bass. He says calico bass care about scents, and they are a blast to catch on light tackle.  (Capt. Tiffany Vague photo)

By Capt. David Bacon, Noozhawk Columnist |

Scents make fish bite better — or wrinkle their noses and swim for cover. After all, there are good scents and bad scents.

Great work has been done to find fish-attracting scents and market them. For example, Berkley’s R&D developed its ultra-successful Gulp! baits. Fish love it, and many professional anglers (including myself and my crew) use Gulp! regularly and liberally.

Sadly, we know precious little about which smells make fish lose their appetite. Other than shark repellent, we have a dearth of available research on the repulsive side of our smelly equation. The best we have are observations and opinions of charter captains, fishing guides and professional anglers.

An observant angler or crew member can find plenty of ongoing research aboard fishing boats. I’m happy to share some of my thoughts, and those of my crew member, Capt. Tiffany Vague, based upon decades of experience as charter captains.

For one, I cover up and hide from the sun rather than smear on sunscreen. Sunscreen wearers catch plenty of fish, and certainly all sunscreen products are not created equal. Yet I have watched good bites suddenly shut off for people who just slathered on copious quantities of sunscreen, picked up their lure or grabbed a piece of bait and sent it down to tickle the nose of an unsuspecting fish who evidently went cross-eyed and scurried away.

Let’s be scentably sensible. Can someone handle a salad or sandwich drenched in vinegar and expect a fish not to notice? Is it reasonable to hope a fish fails to notice that an angler grabbed and devoured four big handfuls of fiery habanero chips before handling a bait or lure? What else? Well, fuel and oil don’t exactly put fish into a feeding frenzy. I’m even wondering if hand sanitizer is yucky to fish.

We do not yet have adequate research available to us to plumb the smelly depths of this onerous issue, but I have found a workable solution, and it should come as no surprise. After a lunch or snack or after slathering on the sunscreen, wash hands with soap and saltwater. Rinse copiously with saltwater. Then with very clean hands, handle some bait like squid or anchovies.

Now those fishy noses will not be offended and you may catch the fish of a lifetime.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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