What Smells Attract Fish?

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Fish hunt for their prey using all of their senses, especially their sense of smell. Some species utilize their sense of smell to a much greater degree to detect certain elements in the water and pick up on whether or not they want to eat the thing they’re smelling. 

There are lots of scent products that companies sell, claiming that they will attract fish. Some of these scents work well while others might not work as they are supposed to. 

If you’re interested in knowing what these powerful scents are and whether they actually attract fish, keep reading. 

How Do Fish Smell?

Any game fish species in both freshwater or saltwater have two small openings (nostrils) on the top of their head which they use to detect scents with. The sense of smell is one of the most important senses used by fish to determine whether or not they want to eat the creature or object they’re interested in. 

Some fish have a more well-developed sense of smell than others and they are often capable of detecting various types of scents with greater efficiency, especially those that live in murky or muddy waters with low visibility. 

Types of Fish Smells and Attractants 

In the last decade, there have been a number of products in the fishing industry that claim to be the best when it comes to attracting fish and getting them to bite. These often come in small spray bottles or even jugs and jars that you can use to dip your lure into. 

These products have been in existence for decades now, but some brands are now manufacturing scent products that ‘stick’ to the bait more efficiently or continue to produce the smell that’s intended longer without wearing off. Many soft plastics now have scents made into the plastic material of the actual bait itself. Some of these products work, but some are not as reliable as these brands want you to believe. 

If you’re searching for the best smells and scent products that attract fish, here are 6 smells that are proven to attract fish. 

Menhaden Oil 

If you’re a saltwater angler, you’re probably already aware that menhaden are one of the most popular bait fish for a variety of different species. Natural menhaden will always work better than oils when it comes to attracting fish, but the smell of menhaden is one of the more powerful scents that most saltwater game fish species find appealing. 

There are a number of different oils and sprays that are based with menhaden oil or scent and some of these products might work better than others in certain situations. Many saltwater anglers will use a dash of menhaden oil to create a slick on the water’s surface to bring in anything from tuna to sharks. 

Menhaden oil is a common additive to chum that anglers use to attract predatory fish.

Blood 

It’s common knowledge that sharks are capable of ‘smelling’ blood more than a mile away, but this is also true to an extent when it comes to other types of fish species in both saltwater and freshwater. Many catfish anglers will use blood-based baits and doughs to catch blue, channel or any other variation of catfish in rivers or lakes throughout North America. 

While biologists haven’t been able to prove whether or not certain freshwater species like crappie or bass are capable of smelling blood in the same way that sharks or even catfish are, it’s been determined that blood is one of the most proficient attractants when it comes to fish species that have keen olfactory receptors. 

Shrimp

Another one of the most popular kinds of natural baits used by saltwater anglers is shrimp. These small and delicate creatures pack a load of powerful scent that fish are naturally attracted to. If you’ve ever fished along inlets or saltwater shorelines with shrimp, you’ve probably experienced how often shrimp get ripped off your hook by any number of fish that are immediately attracted to this kind of bait. 

There are lots of different shrimp-based scents and smells available in the fishing industry. Some of these are considered to be more powerful than others and are said to work more efficiently depending on the type of fish you’re going after. Be sure to read through the information provided by the manufacturer about how to use the product and what situations it’s intended to be used in. 

Crawfish

If you’re an avid bass angler, you already know that crawfish is one of the favorite menu items for largemouth and smallmouth bass. These small creatures are very similar to shrimp in certain ways and they produce powerful smells that freshwater fish find extremely appealing. 

If you’re looking for a solid crawfish scented product to use on your bass fishing lures, you’ll have plenty of different options to choose from. There are many types of sprays, liquid dips and even paste or balm that contain the powerful scent of crawfish. 

Anglers have successfully used these crawfish scents on just about any type of bass fishing lure and it’s been proven by some brands that fish tend to bite and hold on longer to lures that have these scents on them compared to those that don’t. 

Minnow

Minnows are among the most popular freshwater bait for any game fish species you’ll find all over the world. Fish are naturally inclined to detect the smell of a minnow, especially one that’s been wounded and you can seriously increase your catch-rate by applying some minnow-scented attractants on your lure. 

Many soft plastic minnow-like sures now have minnow scent in the actual plastic material itself, which makes these scented minnow lures a very popular choice for fishing in low visibility conditions. I’ve found the Berkley Gulp! Alive! Minnow lures to be just as effective as actual minnows when it comes to catching crappie at different times of the year. 

Garlic 

Many beginner and novice anglers might not believe that something like garlic would be one of the more powerful smells that attract fish. Garlic is usually considered to be a repellent for vampires and even humans as it is often a surefire way to avoid osculation from one’s spouse. However, it is one of the more popular kinds of fish attractants used by bass anglers in North America and Japan. 

I personally like to use J.J.’s Magic Garlic Oil Dip when using soft plastic lure presentations like a Ned rig or Texas rig. If you do decide to experiment with garlic dip or spray, remember that sometimes ‘less is more.’ In other words, don’t apply too much garlic to your lure or bass will be spooked and unlikely to bite. 

Conclusion 

There are a number of other smells that might attract certain kinds of fish species, but these 6 scents are proven to be some of the strongest attractant smells for a wide variety of saltwater or freshwater fish. If you’re looking to incorporate certain smells into your fishing strategy, be sure to do plenty of research on each specific kind of smell or scent and apply them with caution. 

When used properly, scented products can greatly increase the amount of fish you catch. 


Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.