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Catering to a Fish’s Sense of Smell and Taste

Catering to a Fish’s Sense of Smell and Taste Catering to a Fish’s Sense of Smell and Taste
By Noel Vick

We hadn’t eaten since before sunup and the group was starving from a long day on the ice. The waitress flew past leaving a succulent scent trail that made our stomachs ache even more. On her tray, which was headed to a neighboring table, rested an eye-popping ensemble of steak, chicken, and shrimp fajitas garnished with festive vegetables and all the fixings. Our eyes widened. The fajitas sizzled. Our ears honed in like radar. The passing skillet was hot enough to go physically detected. Taste would soon be ours. But it was the smell, oh that signature whiff of Tex-Mex heaven that truly caused premature salivation.

Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Our five senses had been teased to the max by a simple menu item.

Now the seemingly awkward transition to ice fishing… Fish behavior isn’t that much different. The more senses you can appeal to the better your chances of gaining a fish’s attention. It’s that simple. On Ice Tour cofounders, Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis are big believers in catering to a fish’s senses of taste and smell, particularly in cold water situations.

We interviewed an expert in hopes of corroborating On Ice Tour’s point of view.

“In cold water, the feeding moods of fish tend to be more neutral to negative”, says John Prochnow, Berkley’s Product Development Manager. “Their metabolism is slowed, but the right scents and flavors can stimulate a fish’s senses.”

John Prochnow and his Applied Chemistry Department spent countless hours researching the olfactory (smell and taste) senses of fish, and Power Baits are the direct results of their efforts. The team’s ongoing research and development is responsible for continuous improvements in the product.

“Power Baits are composed of compound structures and active ingredients that fish really key in on,” says Prochnow. “Each of our products is unique or species-specific.”

Let’s break things down. The larger classification known as “attractants” can be divided into three categories.

Applied Scents
Applied scents are best described as manufactured liquids, gels, and pastes, which are applied to lures in order to enhance smell and taste.

Tommy recalls an ice-fishing trip where an applied scent made the difference…

“We were fishing a river backwater that was chock full of crappies. Our flashers showed stacks of fish in nearly every hole, but those babies were tightlipped.”

“But there was this secretive guy amongst the crowd who kept yanking up crappies and cautiously turning his back to us while re-baiting. It was driving us mad. Finally, I caught a glimpse of him squirting a little something on his bait.”

“I had to find out what that magic potion was!”

“After some coaxing, he revealed to me a bottle of Power Bait Crappie Attractant. I can’t tell you how fast we jetted back to the bait store to get some!”

Prochnow says that applied scents disperse quickly, even in cold water where scent dispersion is naturally stalled by diminished molecular action. Chip, Tommy, and the fish they’re after, believe that Power Bait Attractants are the most flavorful and aromatic of the applied scents.

“Because of their rapid dispersal, Power Bait Attractants are best suited for jumping from hole to hole searching for fish,” says Prochnow. “Keep applying more every few holes or so to really scent things up.”

Chip says, “Lures with fibrous feathers and hairs hold liquid attractants like nobody’s business. For panfish, I like to squeeze a taste of Power Bait Attractant on a hairy Northland Spider Ant.”

Tommy embraces the same concept when he jigs walleyes and crappies with a feathered Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub.

Liquid attractants can be poured over any ice-fishing lure, regardless of what they’re made out of. But Chip and Tommy have ways of making your favorite lures more scent friendly…

Chip threads a tiny square of sponge or strand of yarn on an ice jig and douses it with liquid attractant. The porous and fibrous lure additives hold scent and provide time-released dispersal.

Tommy sticks a thin strip of Velcro to the backside of a spoon. Velcro’s fibrous composition also does a marvelous job of holding and gradually releasing liquid attractants.

Preformed Scents
Moldable, chewy, colorful, and tasty are good ways to describe preformed scents. These are the manufactured morsels, which can be used as direct replacements for live bait, as well as compliments to.

“Sometimes panfish and perch strip away your wax worms or minnow without getting hooked. But they can be persuaded to strike again if there’s a chunk or two of Power Bait still hanging on.”

To combat the problem, Chip runs a couple of Crappie Nibbles up the shank of a Northland Micro Minnow before putting on a live minnow.

Instead of impaling the head of a minnow on a Lindy Rattl’r Spoon, Tommy garnishes it with a savory Power Nugget. This combination is lethal on hardwater perch, crappies, and stream trout.

Prochnow says that preformed baits are designed with longevity in mind. Their effectiveness is maintained for longer periods than liquid attractants, making them a better choice for sitting over and working a group of fish.

“Crappie Nibbles and Power Nuggets also come in sparkled patterns. I believe this adds to their effectiveness in the clear water conditions usually associated with ice fishing. Their senses of smell, taste, and now sight are being played on.”

Scent Impregnated Plastics
Picture a soft-bodied plastic worm. Inject it with irresistible scent, and you’ve got scent-impregnated plastics.

“Impregnated plastics aren’t as powerful smelling as liquid attractants and preformed bait, but their taste is equal and they’re even more visually stimulating to fish,” says Prochnow. Think about the eye-catching swirl of a grub tail and the pulsating tentacles of a tube…

One of Tommy’s favorite presentations for taking hardwater walleyes and lake trout is a System Tackle Flyer, which is a horizontal swimming jig, paired with a two-inch Power Grub. The Power Grub’s rotating tail and vivid coloration lures fish in while its scent and taste causes them to hang on.

“This is a great package for jigging lake trout on certain Canadian waters, where live bait is illegal to use, or for times when lugging around a bucket of minnows is flat-out cumbersome.”

Chip takes after lakers with a Northland Air-plane Jig, which has scent holding bucktail hairs, and cloaks it with a Power Tube.

Power Wigglers, which look and taste an awful lot like real wax worms, are deadly on wintertime crappies, sunfish, and perch.

Chip grabs a couple of Power Wigglers, which come from the factory linked together, and hooks the tip of one on a Northland Jiggle Bug, leaving the second one to wave and tease behind.

“When you hook them this way,” notes Chip, “you get a lot of motion from a relatively small bait. And even if a short striking bluegill rips off the dangling Power Wiggler, when he comes back for the second course, I’ve got ‘em!”

Tommy uses a modified Micro Power Grub to urge finicky panfish.

“I pinch off the tail and hook the curly part on a tiny ice jig like a System Tackle Coped. The itty-bitty tail billows and panfish are compelled to whack it.”

Dousing a scent-impregnated plastic with applied scent is ice fishing’s double whammy!

Deodorizing…Starting out on the Right Foot John Prochnow just finished explaining how important smell and taste are to cold water fish. So isn’t it reasonable to surmise that eliminating or at least reducing offensive bodily scents would be a beneficial first step?

According to Tommy, “Lindy’s No-Scent Soap effectively eliminates distasteful scents from your hands. And I like the fact that it contains Lanolin, a moisturizer, because wintry weather dries the heck out of my skin.”

Chip pays special attention to keep unnatural smells off his skin before hitting the ice.

“I make sure not to handle cologne, scented lotions, or deodorants before touching my rods, reels, line, lures, and bait. Unnatural and manmade odors can really spook fish.”

Tommy just hopes that Chip applies a little antiperspirant before climbing into a portable fish house with him.

Successful ice anglers learn how to stimulate each of a fish’s five senses, especially smell and taste. And smart ice anglers pack lunches so they aren’t famished and weakened by day’s end, like our opening anecdote.

On Ice Tour is an intensive effort directed at expanding the sport of ice fishing. Cofounders Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis offer public seminars and kid’s clinics; appear at in-store events; exhibit at sport shows and ice fishing competitions; broadcast a weekly radio show and conduct hands-on product demonstrations. On Ice Tour produces an annual ice fishing publication (On Ice), and they can be found on the Internet at

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