A while back, I sat in on a seminar by a very knowledgeable and young surf fisherman who covered all the finer points of selecting lures for striped bass, demonstrating a vast knowledge of the subject. However, when asked about the use of scent, he shrugged with indifference. This was common, as many anglers I’ve met have the same feeling of indifference about using scent on lures when targeting striped bass. My experience, however, is that on more than one occasion, the use of scent has made the difference between a poor and a good trip.
Store-bought scents come in gel, paste, and spray forms, and they smell like everything from bunker to crawfish and or grapes to garlic. I prefer a gel-type scent for soft baits and a paste scent for hard plastics. I stick to the basic bunker or herring attractants, though I once experimented with my wife’s garlic sauce (having no luck).
I first started “juicing” in the early 1970s, when I replaced a real sandworm with a Mann’s grape-scented Jelly Worm and proceeded to land a 30-pound bass. From that day forward, I was convinced that there was a place for artificial scents when hunting striped bass.
Of course, scent is not a magic cure-all that will miraculously make fish bite at any time. Adding scent to your lure in the middle of a blitz of small fish isn’t going to make a 50-pounder appear. In fact, it probably won’t even make a difference in your catch rate at all.
When fishing for a reactionary strike with fast-moving lures, such as surface plugs, spoons, or swimming plugs, scented and unscented lures work equally well. Lure profile and color are more important to first draw a striper’s attention, but at times when slower presentations are employed, “juicing” it could be the final deciding factor in whether or not a striper strikes.
Making a case that fish attractants are important in the pursuit of striped bass requires a brief physiological overview of the fish. It has two pairs of nostrils on each side of its head that allow it to smell constantly as it swims. A striper’s ability to smell is far greater than its ability to see, which biologists have determined is because the cortex in the striper’s brain is smaller for sight than it is for smell. This alone is reason for striper fishermen to add scent. Not using any scent on a lure is ignoring a part of the striper’s brain that could trigger it into striking.
Each spring, schoolie bass up to 12 pounds or so gather at a pond outflow that passes under a strong street light, making a great observation point from above. Waiting on the edge of the outflow under the lights, these fish stack up, waiting on the turn of tide to flush an easy meal from the pond. One evening, I watched bass after bass dart from below to engulf a minnow or shrimp as it drifted out of the drain pipe that emptied water from the pond. Viewing the actively feeding bass, I decided to conduct a small study on scented versus unscented lures.
I first put a soft-plastic shad in the water and held it in the outflow, observing that an average of six fish flashed at the unscented lure for every one that ate it. I then took an identical lure and added a good dab of bunker scent. Immediately, I began hooking one bass for every four that inspected the lure. The following night—same location, same tide stage – I had similar results, but I reversed the testing, starting off with a scented lure, then testing a new unscented lure.
Another night, a friend and I were catching nice-sized schoolies along a rip caused by a small tidal pond outflow. After five or six fish apiece, the bite slowed—until we juiced our lures. After adding scent, we caught another half-dozen fish before the action slowed once again. Reapplying the scent reignited the bite several times until the bass stopped biting altogether. Without a doubt, the juice made a difference that evening.
We have all had nights when the bite turned off or was nonexistent despite prime conditions. So, would juiced-up lures have made a difference? Scent is not the magical solution every time, but under the correct conditions, especially when slowly working your bait, it should be given as much consideration as the lure itself and its color. It could make the difference between success and failure.