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Does This Lure Make Scents? Using smell to catch more shallow water fish.

For those of us who have been around for a while spending time on the water trying to fool fish, it's hard to deny that of all the many developments and innovations that have made fishing better, few inventions have had more positive effect on shallow saltwater fishing than the soft lures which now fill our tackle boxes.

From the original soft plastic Creme Scoundrel worm which was developed seventy years ago to the fantastic range of worms, shrimp, crabs, and minnows of today, soft plastic lures have revolutionized fishing in shallow water.

But as effective as these multi-colored lures are for many shallow water fish, there's just one thing wrong with them. They don't smell.

The sense of smell is vitally important to many of the fish we anglers chase in skinny water, and while many anglers--and lure companies--have tried to add scent to their soft plastic lures, the positive results were at first limited.

But how things have changed, and for the better.


It helps to know a little chemistry to understand how scent is added to soft lures. The Berkley Company makes Powerbait and Gulp! scented lures, very probably the most commonly used scented soft lures, and they tell us a little bit about how it's done.

According to the Berkley folks, standard soft plastic lures are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the same material used to make pipes and other items. To make a soft plastic bait out of PVC, the material must be heated and combined with an oil-based resin. The more resin added, the softer the bait will be. This is how Berkley's Powerbait--and all other soft plastic lures--are made. If scent is added to the plastic lure, the oil in the resin literally traps the scent inside the lure. While some scent does get out, the oil actually functions as a barrier to the scent reaching the water--and the fish. When fish bite this kind of lure, they may hang on longer than they do with unscented lures because the lure releases more scent on the bite of the fish.

Gulp! scented baits are a different kind of critter. Gulp! lures are made with water-based resins, which allows for much more scent distribution. When a Gulp! lure hits the water, scent disperses immediately because there is no oil barrier keeping the water out. This allows the scent to disperse widely which expands the strike zone and attracts fish that may not even see the lure.

When fishing with a Gulp! lure, it is important to fish the bait slowly to allow the bait to do what it is intended to do--disperse scent.

Michael Carr of the Fishbites Company, another very popular and widely used brand of scented soft lures, provides more information about the scented soft lures and how they work--or don't.

Carr says, "First, you would need to know if your target species hunts by scent alone or by sight alone or by both. Second, scent is only part of the success story in fooling a fish. Your bait should also have the flavor of the prey animal as well so that when a fish bites down, it gets the taste it's expecting. In almost all conditions where a shrimp-eating fish would be coaxed by a PVC shrimp, adding scent would up your game by an order of magnitude."

"Again," Carr says, "it's not just about the scent alone, but the flavor that fish will associate with that scent. If the two don't line up, you run the chance of losing the strike because the fish spit out your lure."


Captain Josh Lim (Limit Out Charters; 650-201-4604) guides on the Pensacola Bay system, and he tells us, "I have found that scents and scented lures can make a big difference when getting bites is tough. Casting on a shallow water redfish while moving a bait erratically past them will get their attention, but sometimes, they tend to nose the bait and veer off. This is a perfect situation where the added scent will promote a strike."

Lim continues, "I personally like scented soft lures when sight casting and fishing slow--very slow. Putting a scented lure on the nose of a fish is one of the easiest ways to buy a bite."


Around the coastline of Florida, there are thousands of fish-attracting structures which consistently hold some big, bad fish. These are also the structures we tie our boats to when we're through fishing.

Docks are everywhere on the coastal waters, and they are prime fish habitat. Scented lures--primarily soft lures on jigheads--are probably the best way to fish most docks. Treble-hook hard lures are often snagged and lost under docks. Live baits often run into the structure and get hung up.

A jig and scented soft lure pitched under a dock will usually sink straight down to the bottom where it can be slowly worked around the pilings. Of all lures, the single hook jig is the least likely to be snagged and lost on underwater stuff. Anglers who spend some time throwing scented soft lures on jigheads under docks will likely meet up with redfish of all sizes, some big speckled trout, and some of the biggest, ugliest, strongest black drum to be found anywhere.

As we move down the coastlines of the Sunshine State, we encounter another tough, lure-grabbing shallow water structure--mangroves.

Mangroves provide fish a thick jungle of underwater protection and also a broad overhead cover of branches and leaves which give shade, shelter, and cover for prey ambush. These mangroves both above and below the water also require anglers to use lures which are least prone to snagging. Again, the simple scented soft lure on a jighead shines under the mangroves. In particular, fishing a scented soft lure under the mangroves is a great technique for encountering big snook. Some fine mangrove snapper will not turn down a scented soft lure, either.

For anglers fishing scented soft lures under docks or mangroves, a couple of points need to be made. First, don't be in a hurry to work the jig from under the cover. Let the scent do its job. Watch the line as the lure sinks near the cover. If the line twitches or moves at all during the drop, set the hook. Fish often take the scented soft lure as it sinks.

The next important thing to keep in mind when fishing docks and mangroves--when the fish bites, get it away from the cover. If we can move our hooked fish away from the structure and into open water, we've got a much better chance of catching it.


Of course, most of us prefer to fish clear water that allows us to see and cast to fish. But let's be honest, quite often, heavy rain or tidal flow make the water we want to fish not as clear as we'd prefer. Sometimes we have to fish nasty-looking water. But the fish are still there, and they still have to eat, and the dirty water probably disturbs anglers more than it does the fish.

When the water is dirty, scented soft lures offer us the best chance to catch some good shallow water fish.

Quite often in dirty water conditions, a scented soft lure cast near structure or on the edge of a current flow and allowed to sink to the bottom will attract fish and draw strikes. Captain Josh Lim says, "In dirty water, scents will help fish locate your lure. It's much like using popping corks and lures with hard rattles--a scent will attract fish from afar without them actually seeing the lure. This also allows the bait to be worked much slower while still being effective. A motionless scented bait is better than a motionless non-scented bait. Sometimes in dirty water, we need to slow our retrieve due to water clarity or temperature."


Much of Florida's inshore waters are blessed with healthy seagrass growth, and since all manner of delicious sea life--shrimp, crabs, mullet and other juvenile finfish--make these grass beds home, naturally these beds are great places to find big, hungry fish.

But that grass which provides shelter for the little good-tasting stuff makes weighted jigheads and soft scented lures next to impossible to use. This is where the unweighted scented soft bait is most effective.

Select a scented jerkbait or fluke which can be cast a long way without added weight, and choose a hook which allows a weedless presentation. The scented, weightless lure sinks very slowly and doesn't immediately bury up in the green stuff, so anglers can avoid the frustration of constant snags and hangups that plague weighted lures in heavy grass.

Here's how it works: Take a standard bass hook used for rigging plastic worms--size 2/0 is about right for most situations--and after threading the head of the soft scented lure on the point of the hook, bring the point of the hook back up through the body of the lure so that the hook point is almost projecting through the skin of the lure. This provides a weedless presentation, but when the fish bites, the hook point will emerge and sink into the fish's jaw. Since the lure is scented and flavored, the fish will usually hold on to the lure long enough for the hook to set securely.

Working this kind of weedless scented soft lure is easy. Cast it out, let it sink for a foot or so, and then give a small jerk The lure should flick up to the surface. Then let the weedless, weightless lure slowly sink again. Don't jerk too hard, and don't be in a hurry. Let that lure spread its scent to draw the feeding fish. Repeat this until the lure is back to the boat, or until something big and mean eats it.

We're betting you won't get to bring it back to the boat biteless on many casts. This unweighted scented soft lure technique works great on redfish, speckled trout, and if tarpon are in the area, you might want to keep a very good grip on the rod at all times.

Caption: Gulp! Shrimp was an easy sell for this flats-cruising redfish.

Caption: With flounder, a little extra "convincing" may result in more landings. Right: Gulp! Peeler Crab and Shrimp in bag.

Caption: With flounder, a little extra "convincing" may result in more landings. Right: Gulp! Peeler Crab and Shrimp in bag.

Caption: Unweighted scented bait rigged weedless took this redfish amid heavy seagrass.
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Author:Mashburn, Ed
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:May 1, 2019
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