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October 25, 2001

Mealtime Pollution

If fish posses such a keen sense of smell, why do they hit trolling lures?

Q: If fish have such a keen sense of smell, why would they ever be attracted to a trolling boat when the boat is putting its exhaust fumes into the water? - Glenn Evans, Arlington, Virginia

A: Some fish hunt primarily by scent, but others hunt more by sight. Fishes with great senses of smell include most slow-moving predators such as sharks and bottom fish, so fishing methods for these species include drifting or anchoring with chum and bait - involving more odor than motion.
High-speed predators such as billfish and wahoo are just the opposite. Great sight-feeders, they locate prey more by sight than by scent, spotting silhouettes against surface light or flashes of light reflected by moving prey. That's why billfish attack trolling lures, which have no scent at all.
Regardless of the trolling speed, fish don't seem particularly repelled by exhaust odors, most of which end up in the air rather than in the water, anyway. Some scientists suggest that fish may not even detect odors of that type. On the other hand, many fishermen believe game fish are actually attracted to running boats because of the vibrations put out by the engine, hull and propellers - known collectively as the "hum" of the boat.