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The Smell of Money

By Mark Romanack

Zach Schoonover of Maxima Fishing line is a strong
advocate of cleaning lures before fishing and adding
 natural fish scents to his gear. Note the latex gloves
that Zach wears every time he goes fishing to
control unnatural scents in his fishing.
In the Romanack family when someone’s hands smell like fish, we jokingly say it’s the smell of money. Our clan has made a very comfortable living in the fishing industry and smelling like fish is a good thing when you fish for a living.

Over the years I’ve witnessed a lot of things in fishing I couldn’t explain. For example, how many times have you been in a fishing boat while one guy is catching fish like crazy and no one else can get a bite? Seemingly unexplainable and frustrating instances like this take place in a fishing boat all the time.

On a recent trip to the west coast I may have finally realized something that could explain those frustrating days when fish are obviously around, but not necessarily biting everyone’s fishing lures. One of the cool things about being able to fish in many different places and with lots of talented anglers is the things I learn that ultimately make me question how I’m fishing.

Case in point. As fishermen lots of us believe that scent plays a role in how fish react to baits and lures. We also know from solid science research that certain scents and chemicals are proven to actually repel fish.

Decades ago we identified that the amino acid L-serine commonly found on the hands of fishermen repels fish. We also know that lots of other every day chemicals and compounds also repel fish like gasoline, insect repellant, hand lotions, etc.

The question becomes, why as anglers do we pay so little attention to the condition and or smells of our lures and baits? Why also do we ignore what these products have come in contact with and how those odors and scents are potentially negatively impacting on our fishing success?

As anglers when we tie on a favorite crankbait, spinner, flasher or diving planer do we ever consider where that product has been prior to showing up in our tackle box? The manufacturing and packaging processes required to create fishing lures puts them literally in the hands of countless individuals. From painting to putting on split rings and fish hooks, fishing lures come in contact with lots of things and smells that are less than natural.

Catching fish isn’t so much about putting scents on lures to make them more enticing, but perhaps simply cleaning our lures of unnatural odors before we fish them. On the west coast the vast majority of trout and salmon anglers follow a regiment that I think would benefit anyone who fishes often. At the start of every day on the water these anglers wash their lures and gear in a mild soap solution. 

Based on the anglers I know from the west coast, Lemon Joy is the best soap product for cleaning fishing lures prior to fishing. A shallow basin with a little water, some Lemon Joy, a small scrub brush and a little elbow grease is all it takes to clean foreign odors from your lures and put the odds of success in your favor.

A year ago in Alaska I noticed that all the guides wear latex gloves. At the
 time I thought it was more to keep messy skein and egg cures from staining 
their hands. Now I realize that wearing latex gloves is one of the best ways
 to keep unnatural scents like L-serine off from your fishing lures and gear.
Lots of anglers know that L-serine has been proven to repel fish, but what a lot of anglers don’t know is that the amount of L-serine in a person’s skin varies from person to person. Generally speaking, the darker complected a person is, the less L-serine that is typically found in the skin. So if you’re a fair skinned angler, chances are your hands are your worst enemy in a fishing boat!

You can control L-serine levels in the skin by washing your hands frequently, but a lot of anglers simply opt to wear rubber gloves while fishing. The same latex style gloves that mechanics wear to keep their hands free of grease and solvents work perfect for fishing applications. 

Cleaning lures so they don’t have unnatural scent is a step in the right direction. Adding particular scent product to entice fish to strike is another topic all together. The jury is still out on the topic of after market fishing scents. Do these products really help anglers catch more fish or do they simply catch gullible fishermen?

I can’t say with certainty that fishing scents do or do not work to entice fish to strike. What I can say is that in my experience adding scent doesn’t seem to deter anglers from catching fish. 

Common sense suggests that using scent products that are made from the things fish naturally feed on is a good place to start. Fishing oils, jelly and paste extracted from crayfish, shrimp, alewives, shad, nightcrawlers, anchovy, herring and other common forages are the logical place to start.

After market scent products may or may not entice fish into biting, but it’s pretty good science that these odors can help mask unnatural odors like  L-serine or the hundreds of other household chemicals that end up on a fisherman’s hands.

We could debate the value of cleaning our lures and fishing gear. We can also debate if adding scent products actually helps anglers catch more fish. 

In both of these cases we don’t know for sure how fish react to scent in the water be it natural or unnatural in origin. What we can all agree on is that not catching fish stinks and if cleaning up our act helps us catch a few more fish that’s a good thing.

Like they say cleanliness is next to Godliness. I just know that a bottle of Lemon Joy and a box of latex gloves are going to find their way into my fishing boat moving forward. Just saying.... The jury may still be out, but I’m not taking any more chances.