Quick Links: A Guide to Flavored Baits
Think you're smarter than a fish? Imagine the following scene.
You're not really hungry as you stand in line to buy tickets at the movie theater. Then the tantalizing aroma of hot, buttered popcorn sneaks into your nostrils. Soon your mouth starts watering. Without putting away your wallet, you go directly from ticket booth to snack counter and order a jumbo bucket of popcorn along with an artificially flavored grape soda to wash it down.
You've been hooked in classic stimulus-response fashion.
Saltwater fish may not line up for popcorn, but they find delicacies such as shrimp, squid and sardines irresistible - and manufacturers have devised ways to impregnate artificial baits with these flavors, as well as others. Just like our man at the movie theater, fish often respond to "aromatic" stimuli by going on a feed.
"Fish don't like the taste of plastic. If they get it in their mouth, they spit it out," says Ron Kliegl, marketing director for bait development at Berkley. "Our PowerBait products contain scents and flavors that encourage fish to hold on to a plastic bait."
Berkley impregnates soft plastics with its PowerBait formula. The process assures that flavors won't wash away because they're an integral part of the bait. Don't expect a PowerBait shrimp to smell like the genuine item, however. Working at the company's labs in Spirit Lake, Iowa, Berkley's team of scientists invested years of research to isolate chemical substances that appeal to a wide variety of saltwater fish. Instead of using a particular natural essence - such as shrimp and crab - for each bait, they embed this "universal" attractant in soft plastics shaped to mimic many different forage species.
Keith Jones, fish research director for Berkley, says chemoreceptors responsible for a fish's sense of smell and taste focus on a rather narrow set of specific chemical stimulants that prompt feeding behavior. "While each species responds to its own unique stimulant spectrum, significant overlap exists among predatory species," he explains. "All types of natural prey such as crabs, shrimp and baitfish contain at least some of these feeding stimulants, which is why predators find them appealing."
Gulp! baits, also made by Berkley, contain an attractant similar to PowerBait's formula, but each brand has its own characteristics. Unlike soft-plastic PowerBait, Gulp! consists of 100 percent biodegradable, water-soluble material. "Its consistency helps Gulp! release scent much faster than other baits, including PowerBait," Kliegl says. "We measured it and can claim Gulp! disperses scent and flavor 400 times faster than any other bait."
According to Jones, Gulp!'s water-based composition also allows for more latitude in choosing which ingredients to use in the formula. "Gulp! formulations are, on the whole, more chemically advanced than those of PowerBait," he says. "We have accentuated specific feeding stimulants to enhance the odor and flavor of the baits - kind of like humans adding seasoning to make our food more appealing. Consequently, our Gulp! baits have taken a quantum step forward in chemical potency and effectiveness."
Convenient Cut Bait
On official business in the Florida Keys, Mustad sales manager Jeff Pierce went fishing for yellowtail snapper with some of his pro staffers. "We faced terrible conditions," he recalls. "Clear water, no breeze, no current."
Pierce pulled out his secret weapon: Mustad Activate Instant Bait. Each package holds measured doses of powder and liquid in separate bags; mixing these ingredients in a zip-lock bag (included) produces a tough yet pliable substance with the consistency of bubble gum. "Breaking off a piece takes a bit of force. Don't mold it around the hook like a dough bait. Run the hook point through it like cut bait," he says. "On that trip, Activate out-fished fresh shrimp by about 30 percent. I caught 12 yellowtail on one piece of bait. Instant Bait's durability prevents anglers from losing bait, so they can keep free-lining for more chances to hook up."
Activate's recipe works so well thanks to PheroTech, a combination of pheromones, fish oils and attractants that trigger a feeding response. "The pheromones in Activate can trigger uninterested fish to feed. That's what differentiates it from other products," Pierce says. "We have to offer various species-specific formulas for freshwater applications, but we found that a single formula stimulates many different saltwater species, including redfish, snook, yellowtail and mutton snapper, gag grouper, dolphin, tripletail, bonefish, blackfin tuna and lemon sharks."
A professor at the University of Florida for more than 30 years, Dr. William Carr studied the feeding behavior of marine species and researched the chemical substances fish use to detect their prey. He founded Carr Specialty Baits in 2001 and began producing Fishbites, an alternative to natural bait.
"Fishbites don't contain pheromones, nor does our product contain any fisheries oils, extracts or tissues. While I understand the principles at work in using pheromones to get fish excited, I'm not sure pheromones excite fish to feed, but rather, they excite them to breed," says Michael Carr, vice president of marketing.
Releasing chemical signals that lead predators to their next meal, Fishbites create a trail of feeding stimulants that persuade fish to find and eat the bait. A mesh backing helps the bait stay on a hook as it slowly dissolves; anglers usually have to refresh baits every 15 to 30 minutes (if they don't get any bites).
For situations when cut bait or soft plastics won't do, manufacturers offer ways to add chemical attractants to hard lures. Eagle Claw's Nitro Gravy comes in liquid form for splashing on artificials, while Nitro Grease, a thicker substance, smears on but won't hamper lure action. Both contain Factor X2, a proprietary formula that triggers a feeding response and encourages fish to hold on to a lure after the strike.
Mustad also packages Activate in aerosol spray cans and as a gel. "The gel adheres to hard lures such as spoons and plugs," Pierce says. "The aerosol contains glitter fleck so you can see when it washes off. I apply it to hard topwater lures about every 10 casts, and about every 20 to bucktail jigs since the hair holds the scent longer."
Mark Nichols of D.O.A. Lures spends at least 200 days per year on the water researching and testing his products, and he names squid and shrimp as "two magic smells that drive fish crazy." Although Nichols stresses the importance of lure presentation and action in eliciting strikes when using artificials, he adds flavor (oil pressed from farm-raised shrimp and krill) to his products.
"We mix the oil with the plastic before shooting it into the mold," he says. "Plastic is actually a kind of oil, so we should perceive soft-plastic baits as a liquid. As long as the liquid - the plastic lure - remains in the water, it releases scent from the shrimp oil."
Nichols has observed bonefish inhale D.O.A. Shrimp and swim off without spitting them. "I've seen trout and snook pick up lures lying dead on the bottom, so our baits have enough scent and flavor to prevent fish from dropping them after sucking them in," he says.
Whether spiked with natural products or chemical substances, flavored artificials often convince fish to hold baits longer and increase an angler's chances of scoring solid hookups. Some folks call this an unfair advantage, while others see it as a way of enjoying a fun, successful day on the water.