Fishing & Boating News

Good Scent, Bad Scent, No Scent

Aromatic Answers Kick Catfishing into High Gear

by: Ted Pilgrim,

Photo by Ted Pilgrim
Sometimes, the best scent is no scent at all — Products like Rippin Lips' No Trace are developed specifically to eliminate unnatural scents.
Photo by Bill Lindner
(Apr 20, 2016 - ) As catfish approach prospective prey, taste kicks in. It’s well documented that a catfish’s entire body is covered with taste buds, although the special structures are most densely concentrated around the mouth and barbels. Cats can taste food without mouthing it, simply tickling it with their whiskers.
Consider that catfish possess a much greater abundance of taste buds and olfactory folds than almost any other species and you suddenly realize the profound significance of scent in most all catfishing presentations.
Good Scent – Bad Scent – No Scent
So what exactly is the right scent for catfish? Evidence suggests that the catfish’s olfactory system is highly tuned to sensing amino acids. Of interest to anglers (and big catfish) are the amino acids found in the blood and tissues of familiar baitfish. Oppositely, amino acids such as serine, which is contained in human skin, has been shown to be highly offensive to many fish species. The amount of serine in human skin apparently depends upon the gender, age and even race of the individual.
Studies of migrating salmon have demonstrated that the introduction of serine into rivers can be so offensive that just one part of human skin dissolved in 80 billion parts of water is enough to stop migrating salmon for up to an hour.
While little to no research of this type has been conducted with catfish, most veteran anglers acknowledge the ill effects of certain odors, particularly when cats come in contact with their baits.
Tournament angler John Jamison has spent appreciable time experimenting with both scent additives and odor elimination products. He’s convinced that certain seemingly “unlucky” anglers may merely be the ones who contain the highest levels of serine in their skin.
Fish oil based applicants, like Rippin Lips' Scent Trail, help supercharge cut bait, assuring a steady stream of succulent scent and flavor. Image courtesy of
“I started comparing catfishing to deer hunting,” Jamison said. “We go to great lengths to stay hidden from the sniffers of big bucks. We wash our clothes, hands and hair with special soaps; we wear scent-neutral attire in the treestand, and even chew special gum that blocks human breath.
“It occurred to me that if we’re overestimating the role of scent in deer hunting, we’re completely underestimating its importance in catfishing. Given that catfish can smell so incredibly well, I no longer start fishing until I’ve removed all offensive scents from the equation.
Jamison and his tournament partners now frequently wash their hands with scent elimination solutions made specifically for anglers. Their preference is No Trace, an all-natural anti-odor product that can be sprayed onto hands, and even clothing. Its benign, water-like appearance and texture, Jamison says, knocks out noticeable odors such as gasoline, insect sprays, and tobacco, as well as neutralizing serine secretions in skin. According the developers at Rippin Lips, No Trace is formulated with specialized proteins called enzymes, which the company calls the most powerful odor eliminators in nature. They’re some of the same ingredients used in similar products for the hunting market. Interestingly, No Trace acts not only as a natural antimicrobial, but it also works as an antiseptic and disinfectant, aiding the healing process of minor cuts and scrapes.
In Jamison’s boat, applying No Trace prior to handling any bait or equipment has become standard operating procedure. Throughout the day—after eating lunch, applying insect spray, handling gas or oil, etc.—he’ll apply No Trace several more times; certainly prior to cutting fresh bait, sharpening hooks or handling line.
Unlike other scent removal products, No Trace isn’t a soap, but a fine liquid spray that can be applied without additional rinsing in water. Considering the awesome scent detecting power of catfish, attempts to remove all traces yourself and various off-putting odors from your presentation—even if we can’t ourselves smell them—ought to be as natural as tying a knot or sharpening a hook.
Marinating cutbait adds a powerful burst of catfish-craving flavor. Plano's Liqui-Bait Locker System (LBL) containers help seal in the goodness.
Scent Additives Today
The other side of the equation is, of course, fortifying baits with liquid scent applicants. For anglers using cutbaits, one of the biggest issues is keeping fresh bait on the hook. Top catmen regularly refresh their rigs, replacing waterlogged, scent-stripped baits with a new blood- and oil-riddled chunk.
Particularly when bait’s in short supply, enlivening a new or used bait with some type of scent additive can make a significant difference, not only in attracting catfish from distances, but also in triggering them to bite.
Often, Jamison chooses to pre-cut baits prior to fishing, placing the chunks in a bait cooler and then marinating the whole works with scent. It works particularly well in summer and winter—phases when extra scent and flavor routinely induce extra bites. Once he’s filled the container with bait, he’ll pour in a 4-ounce bottle of Scent Trail—an amino acid and fish oil based attractant that can also be sprayed onto individual baits.
Beyond marinating pre-cut baitfish or spraying scent directly onto individual baits, anglers also use hypodermic needles to inject strips of bait with various scents. “Injecting baits rather than spraying them allows scent to saturate the flesh, where it flows more gradually and naturally in the water. This works especially well in warm water, which seems to pull natural blood and scent out of cutbait faster.
“Think of it like injecting a deep fried turkey. All those juices and flavors just ooze deliciously with each bite. Insert the needle just under the skin of a fillet and squeeze in a small amount of attractant. Repeat this at various places on the fillet. For a huge burst of flavor, you can also inject larger amounts of scent into the body cavities of whole baitfish.”
Angling on both sides of the scent equation—invisible and aromatic—yields justified confidence and extra bites. Eliminate the bad. Enhance the good. Put out a powerful, positive underwater message. Make it easier for cats to locate, accept and chomp your bait. Specialized scent products today bring out your best game. A few shots of the good stuff are powerful medicine indeed.
Fish oil based applicants, like Rippin Lips' Scent Trail, help supercharge cut bait, assuring a steady stream of succulent scent and flavor.
Photo by
Marinating cutbait adds a powerful burst of catfish-craving flavor. Plano's Liqui-Bait Locker System (LBL) containers help seal in the goodness.
Photo by