W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Sam Anderson
Something Smells Fishy
By Sam Anderson
Behavior in fish is nothing but a pattern of response to sensory stimuli. No matter how wily they seem, fish are fairly short on brains, and they don't really think in the same sense that we do. Fish are creatures of habit and instinct they don't cogitate, they react. The smartest fish can't possibly out think the dumbest fisherman, but even the smartest angler can out think himself. Fishing is not a battle of wits. Relax in the confidence that you are many times smarter than the wisest old fish you well ever encounter.
I think odor and scent is one of the areas that fisherman overlook. It is commonly acknowledged that fish have an extremely sensitive nose that allows them to keep in touch with what is happening in their environment.
The olfactory senses are particularly important to many fish species. With it, they can pick up a scent of a food source, and receive warnings of danger, allowing them to navigate by their nose. All fish have at least two nostrils in their snout. Most gamefish as well as other species have four nares, two on each side of the snout. That's where the similarity to mammals ends. Air breathers have a tube from the nostrils that lead to the throat; fish do not.
Behind the nares on a fish is a chamber lined with sensory pads capable of detecting minute odors. The key to keen smell is the ability to move water over these pads rapidly. Fish use tiny hairs called cilia to push water into the chamber. The double nostril system allows fish to push water in one and out the other, insuring a stronger and faster flow. A pumping system using the cilia or moving the gill is important. Otherwise, the system is only effective in flowing water or when the fish is swimming.
Smell is handled by the forebrain in the fish's head. Those with well-developed olfactory senses have an exceptionally large forebrain. Traditionally, bottom dwellers and those species living in deep water rely on their sense of smell a great deal, but it is often important to those fish that inhabit shallow water. The northern pike has a particularly poor sense of smell and does not feed well at night. Any species that does feed at night probably has a well-developed sense of smell. If you are a night fisherman for walleyes you know that they must use their sense of smell, because where they live it is totally dark.
Gamefish often use smell to track a food source and then switch to vision when they are close. When you are fishing for walleyes in clear cold water you will probably want to apply some Berkley Power Jelly. The Power Jelly stays on the lure longer and in the case of the walleye jelly, it comes in glitter chartreuse and florescent orange, that look like fish scales. This approach combines both smell and the sense of sight, a deadly combination, for those big spring 'eyes.
Repeated experiments have shown that fish react negatively to certain smells that spell danger such as those given off the human hand. Humans have a substance called L-serine which is an amino acid. When they touch a bait, a lure, line, and so forth, this substance transfers and the fish can smell it. I often rub Berkley Power Bait Attractant in the walleye scent, over my hands to mask the scent normally given off. It really makes a difference in catching fish.
There are products that will help you to mask the human scent your body gives off. One of the first areas that should not be overlooked is the early morning shower. If you want to stop the odor you might want to wash with Lindy No-Scent soap. No-Scent soap is the fisherman's solution to washing away fish repelling odors, oil, tobacco, and L-serine. Lindy No-Scent soap effectively washes away fish slime and odors, even onion and garlic, and it contains lanolin to help keep skin from drying out and cracking.
Pheromone is the term describing a smell that is used for some form of communication among fish. Baitfish, for example, often panic at the smell of a wounded school member. There is a substance in the skin of baitfish called schreckstoff, "fright substance," and it is visible under a microscope. When a predator grabs or eats a baitfish, schreckstoff is given off and it warns the other baitfish to stay clear of the area. To eliminate the pheromone or schreckstoff odor, even suntan lotion or gasoline, I will also use Lindy No-Scent soap applied waterless to eliminate any undesirable odor.
Certain minnows recognize the smell of predators and scientist believe this is instinctual rather than learned. They introduced the odor of pike into a tank of baitfish that had never seen a pike and the fish reacted. But you don't have to have a scientific experiment set up to figure this out. Have you ever caught a lot of fish in an area and then all of sudden caught a predator like a northern pike? What happens after you place your lure in the water that has all the smell of the northern pike on it? How many walleyes bite on that lure that contains the smell of the northern? The answer is simple fish learn that the predator rules this area and the smell of the predator makes them seek a hiding place. Smell is used among school members for various rituals including mating. It is an important sense, but one which humans have difficulty understanding because our own olfactory senses are less than acute.
Next time you head out to your favorite fishing hole think about how
you and your equipment smell. If it smells like the fish you want to
catch then head for the lake. If you want to increase the odds in your
favor, start thinking and smelling like something the fish like. See
you on the Water!
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Since August 1, 1998