Scented Soft Baits

Tips on choosing and using soft fishing baits

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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.

**Taste, Texture and Temperature
**A Mister Twister Exude lure seems like any other soft-plastic bait - until it gets wet. "After the first cast, it feels slimy, just like a baitfish," says Beth Lee, purchaser for Mister Twister. "The Exude process molds certain additives into the lure, which it releases upon contact with water. These ingredients contain a ­proprietary blend of proteins, minerals and amino acids that are known to entice fish to feed."

Trigger X lures contain ­artificially created pheromones (chemical substances released by animals that serve to influence behavior of other members of the same species). David James, Rapala field promotion and media-relations manager, says the Trigger X blend features Ultrabite Pheromones, which mix "fear" and "aggression" pheromones. "The fear pheromones mimic those released from schools of frightened baitfish. Predator fish have evolved to respond to these pheromones and associate them with a food source," he says. "The aggression pheromones mimic those from other predator fish and are interpreted as competition, which makes predators want to feed."

Three different Trigger X formulas - Aggression, Saltwater and Walleye - are designed for a particular type of fish. "Although many of the ingredients are shared across the range, the percentages of those ingredients in each formula differ," James says. "Thanks to scientifically developed and patented technology from CEFAS (Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), Trigger X is the first and only soft bait formulated with special Ultrabite Pheromones that target saltwater predators."

The Saltwater series baits come in crab, minnow, paddle-tail minnow and shrimp shapes, and feature ribbed bodies that offer a double advantage: The prominent ridges create a softer, lifelike feel while increasing surface area and allowing for increased pheromone distribution. "The lure's action and color draw a fish's interest. As the fish gets close enough, the attractant scents and Ultrabite Pheromones convince it to strike the bait," James explains. "When the fish bites, the gustatory stimulants make the fish hold on. The complete array of visual, olfactory and gustatory stimulation makes Trigger X very effective."

Excite-A-Bite lures come in a wide selection of colors and seven shapes, including curly-tail grub, shad and shrimp. The baits pack a dose of feeding pheromones in a formula developed after years of research by a worldwide team of scientists, according to George Large with Yo-Zuri.

The warmer the water, the faster a scented lure will give off its alluring smell. "But," says Caprio, "water temperature will likely affect fish behavior more than the lure."

James agrees that water temperature has a greater bearing on fish activity than on scent dispersion. "Anecdotally, we hear that Trigger X sometimes works better when the water is colder, because it brings results in conditions that typically make it harder to get fish to bite," he says.

**Spray 'Em and Slay 'Em
**Anglers whose favorite soft-plastic lures have no embedded attractants can perfume their baits with more than anise oil. Gulp!, Trigger X and many other brands offer bottles of spray-on scents for juicing up lures. The ability to absorb and then disperse scents and how long an application lasts, depend on a plastic's particular makeup and porosity.

Rather than simply spritzing lures, James recommends using Trigger X Rejuvenator spray as a soak. "After 15 to 20 minutes in the water, the majority of the active ingredients have dispersed from the bait," he says. "If you want to recharge it, you should soak it in the spray liquid in another container for at least an hour."

In case you're wondering (like I was), the fish-scent chefs don't seem keen to sample their own recipes. "I've never tasted the complete SCI-X formula," Caprio says. "I have tasted a few of the individual components, though. Some taste sweet, some bitter, some have a strange taste and others not so much of a taste - but I'm no fish!"