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Added attraction: scents sweeten coldwater presentations.

IN THE SUMMER, WALLEYES' FEEDING PHILOSOPHY IS THE PISCATORIAL EQUIVALENT OF "LET'S HIT THE BUFFET." JUST ABOUT ANYTHING THAT MOVES IS FAIR GAME ON THE WALLEYE TABLE, AND NEARLY ANY KIND OF LURE CAN CATCH FISH. BUT IN WINTER, THE URGE TO FEED IS REDUCED AS WALLEYE METABOLISM SLOWS. CERTAINLY, THE FISH ARE LESS ACTIVE AND LESS LIKELY TO SMASH BAITS THAN THEY ARE IN WARMER WATER.

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That's why it's important to offer coldwater walleyes n package that includes scent. For the most part, scent is a bonus--a piscatorial deal-closer much like a scoop of ice cream on hot pie is for us. But at times, it can make the difference between getting bit and going bust.

BODY OF EVIDENCE

I used to be skeptical about scents and their effectiveness, but in recent years I've seen time and again how scent can play a major role in fishing success. There are differences among fish species and each one's reactions to olfactory triggers, but I'm convinced that scent can play an important part in getting them to hit.

My first experience came while on a redfish trip on the Gulf of Mexico. I was casting jigs through aisles in the weeds using leadheads and grubs with no bait. However, I had doused the jigs with Ultrabite, a feeding stimulant developed in concert with the British government for use in aquaculture.

Fishing was pretty. slow, but I continued to cast down one fishy-looking lane. A small pod of sheepshead, which are notoriously spooky in the shallows, swam across in front of the boat. When they entered the lane I was fishing, they did a 90-degree turn and followed the path of my lure all the way to the boat, Since then, I've noticed that many fish respond positively to scents.

But these are saltwater fish. you say--not walleyes. That's true. However. walleyes are predators and scent is an important factor in filling empty bellies, especially during coldwater periods--where it plays an important part in feeding behavior. "'In cold water," says Dr. Keith Jones. Berkley's scent guru and mastermind of PowerBait scent research, "fish need fill extra boost at times, and scent gives them that." He adds that even though in colder water scents don't disperse as well, with "less coming out" from the lure, they remain an important part of the entire sensory package.

"An object without scent is incomplete from a sensory standpoint," he says. "And that's a very important consideration. The more complete the package, the more likely a fish will hit it. Scent can also be an inducement, and merely having it in the water changes the way a fish reacts to a bait or lure."

John House. an acquaintance who fishes Minnesota walleyes from Rainy Lake to the Mississippi River, has found that scent can be important both in cold openwater and ice-fishing applications. "I catch maybe three times as many walleyes when I use scent as compared to not using it." he says. adding that saugers seem to be especially susceptible to lures doused with scent.

House uses YUM Shad scent almost exclusively for walleyes. Watching sonar while ice fishing, he's noted how the company's Vibra King tubes filled with shad scent draw more aggressive reactions, and outfish, tubes tipped with a minnowhead.

"When the fish aren't biting--when they're in a negative mood scent doesn't seem to make a difference," he adds. "'It doesn't really seem to turn them on, in my experience. But the rest of the time, it's very worthwhile."

Although House's scent strategies are built on aggressive fish. other anglers. including tournament pro Chase Parsons and guide Bernie Keefe. have the opposite opinion. "I've really seen a difference with Eagle Claw's Walleye Gravy during tough bites," says Keefe, of Granby, Colorado. "For example, I'll never forget a tournament at Glendo Reservoir, Wyoming. The fishing wasn't that great, but when my partner and I added scent to the tubes we were pitching in 3 or 4 feet of flooded brushy cover, the big fish turned on and we ended up 6th or 7th out of 100 boats."

Keefe often smears a dab of Walleye Gravy on the sides of his lure or soft-bait in what he calls a "non-scientific" manner. But he has tricks. One is to soak cigarette filters (available at tobacco shops) in a scent-filled Tupperware container. "I pluck them out with a forceps as needed, inserting them into 4- to 6-inch tubes," he says. Keefe also affixes small pieces of Velcro to the cupped side of jigging spoons. "The Velcro holds scent much better than bare metal," he explains. "And if you keep the pieces small enough, they don't affect the action of your spoons."

Parsons, of Brillion, Wisconsin, relies on Mustad's Activate blend of fish oils and pheromones to boost his odds of success when walleyes come hard. "I've definitely seen an advantage working specific pieces of structure when the fish aren't very aggressive," he says. Parsons uses aerosol spray to spice up jigs and cranks (cast, not trolled), with no further modification to his lures. "The flecks in the Activate let me know when it's time to reapply," he says. "Generally, that's every five minutes."

TYPES OF SCENT

A wide range of scent products is available, each claiming to be the best at helping us catch more fish. Not all scents, however, are the same. There's such a gamut of products being offered that picking one can be confusing. Basically, scents boil down to three types: masking, food-based, and a category best described as "everything else."

Masking scents do just that: they cover up objectionable odors that may turn fish off. What fish find objectionable differs with species, undoubtedly, as well as the level of their aggressiveness. When walleyes are on the prowl, they pretty much shoot first and ask questions later. However, research has shown some compounds can be a detriment. Gasoline is widely considered one of the worst offenders, but Berkley's John Prochnow reveals it's not the turn-off anglers think. "Bass will eat a bait dipped in gasoline as readily as non-dipped baits," he says. "On the other hand, insect repellents containing DEET are very distasteful." So are some sunscreens, preservatives, tobacco (thanks to nicotine), and detergents.

Berkley's new TEC Erase Odor Killer was concocted to remove offensive odors on baits and line. It's the latest in a long line of scent-eliminating products to hit the fishing scene.

In the food-based category, krill is big right now. The oceanic shrimp has an aroma close to that of crawfish. The fragrance of other basic walleye food groups, such as baitfish and nightcrawlers, are also available in pastes, sprays, and jellies. To sweeten his presentations, Prochnow tips lure hooks with Gulp! softbaits, or annoints them with Gulp! Spray "every 3 to 6 casts." He also inserts PowerBait and Gulp! doughbaits into tubes and hollow swimbaits. "Twist the top of a drinking straw into the dough," he says. "Continue the twisting motion as the straw is withdrawn. Next, cut the straw off about 1/2 inch above the level of the dough and insert it into the swimbait; use the head of a small nail to push the dough into the cavity"

The third scent category includes everything from coffee to garlic. Certain chemicals, notably amino acids and other artificial replications of natural compounds, are popular options. Combinations are prevalent, too. And lately, pheromone products (technically not scents) such as Ultrabite and Activate have gained ground as well.

As the coldwater period lingers, particularly in the North, it's a matter of trial and error to find the right scent to match water, fish mood, and forage base. Once you do, however, walleyes are the reward.

PHEROMONES: SIGNALS, NOT SCENTS

PHEROMONES ARE SOMETIMES lumped in with scents as fish attractants. But they aren't odors. They're actually ancient forms of chemical communication dating back to the dawn of creation. More importantly--scent or not--they can help you catch more fish.

In a strict scientific sense, pheromones are chemicals that, when released into the environment by a type of fish or other organism, affect the behavior of other members of the same species. Many creatures communicate with pheromones, including fish, insects, plants, and even humans. Pheromones work by triggering a variety of instinctive responses including sexual behavior, physical development, and flight. "Other substances, such as the widely discussed "schreckstoff" or "fear pheromone." may not be pheromones at all, as they are detected and reacted to by multiple species, including minnows and predators," says Walleye In-Sider Staff Fishery Biologist Steve Quinn.

Although science has much to learn about their mechanics, pheromones are known to help fish communicate with one another in their often-murky underwater world. As noted, messages are restricted to individuals of the same species--walleye to walleye, carp to carp, and so on. Here they act like a secret code of sorts, allowing fish to coordinate behavior or report environmental observations without alerting predators, prey. or competitors. However, some research also suggests different species of fish in the same family--such as different types of minnows--can interpret and react to each other's pheromonal memorandums.

FISHING CONNECTIONS

Why should anglers care about fish pheromones? Because they have the potential to stop a hot bite dead in its tracks, for starters. Alarm pheromones given off by an injured fish can warn its schoolmates of danger. triggering involuntary responses that put the brakes on otherwise fast fishing action.

"I've seen this happen many times when bass fishing, and it is theoretically possible with walleyes as well," says Dr. Hat Schramm, leader of the U.S. Geological Survey's Mississippi Cooperative Research Unit and a professor at Mississippi State University. "I catch bass after bass from a specific area, such as a brushpile, until a fish comes unbuttoned and scoots back to the cover. Then the bite shuts down." Schramm believes alarm pheromones released from the lost fish warn other bass of danger, thus halting their feeding behavior.

Though he's an avid bass fisherman, Schramm is also involved in the university's work with Gulf Coast walleyes, a genetically unique southern strain of Sander vitreus. He says anglers can short-circuit a predators warning system by keeping their boats as far from the fish-holding strike zone as possible, quickly pulling hooked fish away from the structure or school, and releasing them at the boat. Where legal, Schramm holds bass in his livewells until ready to move off a particular spot, then releases the fish en masse. When fishing close to or directly over fish-holding cover or structure where delayed release is not an option, he targets the edges of the spot to avoid spooking fish in the center.

As for the fish-attracting or feeding-stimulating powers of pheromones, walleye pro Chase Parsons is a firm believer. 'I was skeptical at first, but when Mustad-one of my main sponsors--came out with Activate I tried it and was really impressed," he says. The product contains Phero-Tech, a blend of fish oils attractants, and pheromones that Mustad says trigger feeding behavior. Parsons favors the company s walleye formula in an aerosol spray. "I've definitely seen an increased catch rate using it. especially during a tough bite."

Parsons cautions that when using pheromone-based products, speed kills fishing success. "Slow-moving presentations focused on a specific piece of structure are better than high-speed tactics covering a lot of water, because they allow fish time to pick up and respond to the signals, while your bait is still in the vicinity," he says. "I mainly use Activate when pitching jigs to weedbeds or casting crankbaits to a tight area. Conversely, I don't use it for openwater trolling."

Along with an understanding of what pheromones are and how they work, such guidance is key to factoring in this ageless form of chemical communication for modern fishing applications.--Dan Johnson

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MAKING SCENTS

FOLLOWING ARE A SAMPLE of manufacturers offering scent- and pheromone-based attractants with potential for the walleye trade, plus some odor erasers.

Atlas-Mike's: Fool-A-Fish Walleye (scent added to UV spray), Lunker Lotion, Gel Scent, and Glow Gel Scent--920/563-2046, atlasmikes.com.

Berkley: Gulp! Alive! Spray and TEC Erase Odor Killer--800/2375539. berkley-fishing.com.

Blue Fox: Dr. Juice Super Juice, Tournament Super Juice, and Softshell Crawfish--rapala.com.

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Catcher Company: Smelly Jelly paste and sticky liquid, and Smell Repel odor eliminator--503/648-2643.

Eagle Claw: Eagle Claw Gravy and Eagle Claw Grease are both available in walleye formulas--eagleclaw.com.

Kick'n Bass: Kick'n Walleye scent--800/605-2277, kicknbass.com.

Lindy: No-Scent Soap--lindyfishingtackle.com. O. Mustad & Son: Activate attractants and stimulants including spray and liquid--315/253-2793, mustad.no.

Pautzke's: Krill scent and gel, as well as Bass Factor gels in shad, crawdad, and other scents--509/925-6154, pautzke.com.

Pro-Cure: Scent, liquids, gels, dyes, bait preservatives in UV and glow formulations, in one of the largest range of products on the market--503/363-1037, pro-cure.com.

Rapala: Trigger X products based on Ultrabite--rapala.com.

* Keith Jackson is a veteran fishing and tackle writer who lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
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Author:Jackson, Keith
Publication:Walleye In-Sider
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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