Like most revolutions, this one began quietly. Decades ago, secretive bass fishermen in search of a competitive edge started adding drops of anise oil to their bags of plastic worms, theorizing that the scent/flavor would cause fish to hold the lure longer and facilitate hookups. Manufacturers caught wind of this trick and soon offered strawberry- and grape-scented worms.
The trend eventually flowed downstream to saltwater environs and, thanks in large part to the popularity of Berkley Gulp! baits, the menu now includes many more flavors.
Don't expect aroma alone to entice strikes, however; lure shape and movement still play major roles in duping fish. "I'm a firm believer that lure action and presentation are more important than scent," says Eric Bachnik, of MirrOlure, which recently introduced Provoker shrimp-scented soft-plastic twitch baits. "But the Gulp! revolution came about, and now anglers demand scent in their soft baits."
Wake Up and Smell the...
Check around, and you'll find lures with scents/flavors that range from shrimp to garlic and, yes, even coffee. These recipes fit into three basic categories: masking scents (for example, with anise, coffee or garlic) to hide human and plastic odors; natural-bait flavors (crab, sardine, shrimp, squid) to mimic prey; and chemical formulas (Atraxx, Exude, Gulp!, Power Bait, Trigger X) designed to stimulate a feeding response in fish.
Berkley developed and continues to improve Power Bait and Gulp! products in its million-dollar lab in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Under highly controlled conditions - fish are fed regularly to avoid pure hunger reactions and kept separated in individual tanks to prevent a competitive feeding response - Berkley researchers conduct thousands of tests to isolate particular flavor elements that fish prefer. Chemists then re-create and intensify these flavors, which are added to the baits prior to molding. Gulp! Alive! baits come in containers filled with the liquid formula to provide an additional infusion of attractant.
Made of a biodegradable, water-based material matrix, Power Bait and Gulp! lures begin working their olfactory magic as soon as they hit the water. At what distance can fish smell them? "The effective range depends on water conditions and species," says Berkley's product development director, John Prochnow. "It varies from a few inches to a few yards."
Dr. John Caprio, a fish neurobiologist at Louisiana State University, has dedicated more than 30 years to studying how fish interpret odors and taste prey. Through online monitoring of nerves that process taste and smell, he tested the reactions of various species and isolated the specific natural chemicals that stimulate fish to eat. "Like humans, fish have distinct neurological pathways for tasting and smelling," Caprio says. "My laboratory determines the key chemicals that activate the smell and taste systems in fish, and we used these findings to develop the SCI-X formula."
Since fish detect odors via water-soluble - not airborne - particles, Caprio says they don't perceive the same smells that humans do. For this reason, he puts little faith in aromatic masking scents. "We've identified the active components of natural chemicals that fish are designed to detect and incorporated them into Attrax lures with SCI-X," he says. "The lures look, feel, smell and taste like live bait. Not only do Attrax lures release natural compounds that mimic live bait, they do so in much greater concentrations than would occur naturally. The more stimulation, the more aggressively fish bite."
When asking for details about ingredients, I learned the substances that induce fish to feed cause lockjaw in manufacturers. "Proprietary information" was the standard reply.