How to

Making Sense of Scents

Advanced Lure Fishing

Do scents work? Which ones are best? KEVIN SAVVAS answers these and other questions in this informative piece on scented soft plastics.

A HOT topic in fishing for quite a while now has been the legitimacy of attractants on lures in competitions as well as in general fishing. I fish a few competitions here and there and it’s quite amusing to hear the antics that go on. The general debate has revolved around the ethics involved in using scents. Most scented plastics are constructed from natural sources such as starch compounds, similarly used in the feed for aquaculture fish, or are made from biodegradable materials. This is in stark contrast to the original PVC varieties that most fishos are accustomed to see hanging on the shelves.

I guess the debate has never really been reconciled. In the blue corner you have the “purists” who turn their noses up at the notion of using an un-natural presentation made of natural ingredients. In their eyes it sort of defeats the purpose. They would much prefer the joy of catching a fish based purely on deception without the use of added attractants. In the red corner you have the “capitalists” who will use any lure or technique that catches them the most fish. I guess for most of us the argument is irrelevant. To a competition guru signed up to a brand that uses standard plastics instead of scented ones then the argument holds a little more sensitivity. Either way it’s best to stand at arms length and let both corners fight it out between themselves.

One thing that has never been in dispute is the fact these new breed of so-called eco-friendly natural-based soft baits catch plenty of fish. The influx of new brands competing for shelf space is testament to that. Not to mention existing brands that have launched their own recipes to try and stem the flow of lost revenue to their competitors.


For me, I love ’em. I never used to. I hated the fact I would pay 10 bucks for fandangle new Gulps or Food Co. lures only to have them come out of the packet at right-angles. That really got under my skin. If I couldn’t sell the concept to myself I sure as hell couldn’t expect to sell it to a fish.  So I steered clear for a very long time. Admittedly since those early days manufacturing has improved somewhat. Now when I reach my hand in a packet of Gulps only 50 per cent of them come out bent!

In some respects I’ve come back to the dark side. I’m not immune to fish talk, no die-hards are, but I just couldn’t resist trying them again after years of hype. The popularity has existed long enough now for it not to a flash-in-the-pan craze either. Since going back a while ago now there’s no denying my catch rates have improved as a result. This is from using lures impregnated with scent or attractants such as S-Factor that are topically applied. This relates to most of my local target species as well. I don’t think I would feel confident if I went fishing without them these days.

The X-Files

So why are scents or attractants so effective? If you ask any of the manufacturers that question you’ll get a varied response. If you believe the marketing blub blazoned across some of the packaging you could be fooled into thinking they are more potent than live natural baits. The unfortunate scenario is newcomers starting their soft plastic careers tend take that marketing jive as gospel. Don’t get me wrong, in the right hands and in the right situations scented lures will out-fish anything around. But is this a realistic expectation for everybody? I think not.

The particulars about “why’” the various scents work has been an open forum. The information on “how” they work is a closely guarded secret. Honestly, when I tried to conduct some research for this piece I was met with intrigue and collusion more fitting for a spy movie. Only S-Factor’s founder Dr Ben Diggles was generous with information and gave me more than I could ever hope to comprehend. I guess from that standpoint this is quite a subjective analysis.

Without delving into the science of scents, as I’m far from qualified to make any scientific assertions, what I can tell you is that the attractants are designed to appeal to a fish’s sense of taste and smell. This isn’t a particularly new idea as berley has been used in fishing as long as Adam was a boy. From smelling berley fish can be attracted from sometimes kilometres away. Where the concept is a little newer is in the taste. Fish, apparently, can taste the flavour of food without having the food in their mouth, albeit from a very close range. Some species of fish actually have taste buds on the outside of their mouth and can taste while drawing water into their mouths while breathing. Consequently, a better tasting lure attracts more fish. If the taste is suitable fish hold onto the lure for a longer period of time. Fairly straight forward stuff!

There are several types of scents on the market. All have different ways they disperse in the water. The various manufacturers obviously tell us their own unique blend is the optimal delivery. To simplify matters, attractants can be broken down into two categories: water soluble and insoluble. Due to their highly developed sense of taste, a fish’s tastebuds respond to specific water soluble compounds. These disperse in water easily and can be tasted easily; S-Factor, Gulps and Exudes all fall into this category. Oil-based products are insoluble and therefore do not disperse easily in water. This limits the ability of fish to taste the attractant. It’s important to understand what category the lures you use fall into.

inline_601_ benefits of choosing the right scents are many. The results of choosing the wrong scents are fishless trips. While research has shown some scents to be attractants, most of the products sitting on the shelves are actually repellents. This means some of you are using lures that make fish skedaddle in the other direction. It would be an interesting statistic to know what percentage of first time fishos using these lures don’t get a touch and dismiss the true power of soft plastics. The sad reality is most of them come up empty handed. Some may even turn to another sport!

How do you know which scents are dodgy? Well, most of the products designed for the American large mouth bass fishery are dubious. Steer clear of these and aim for popular, credible brands

Killer Combos

I certainly have a few combinations now that over several months have revolutionised the way I go about my estuary angling. I mainly fish Sydney waterways but I can’t see why these patterns wouldn’t be applicable to other areas and other species.

My No.1 target on soft plastics is jewfish. While catching jewies on plastics has been well publicised in the fishing media, jewies still are an interesting and formidable target. My dad’s favourite song “Some days are diamonds, some days are stone” is pretty spot-on. I’m glad to report that days of stone are becoming fewer and farther between. After a quick calculation I estimated historically that when we sounded out jewies on the Lowrance we used to hook up 20-30 per cent of the time. This is a fairly reasonable hook-up rate; one that we were proud of, anyway. Since we’ve started to incorporate attractants into the mix that rate has climbed to over 60 per cent. Two out of every three times we find fish located on the sounder it results in a hooked jewie!

My current favourites are the Berkley 4” and 5” Power Minnows with S-Factor, Berkley Gulp 5” Jerkshads and Atomic 6” Jerk Minnows with S-Factor. These three combinations I use cyclically and at this stage can’t find a clear-cut top performer. What I can say is that jewies absolutely love these presentations and they should be in the arsenal of all would-be jewie fishos. Our best session has seen 16 jews caught in less than one hour. What should be noted is that I only use minnow or stickbait types of profiles exclusively. I tend not to waste my time on fish and shad profiles anymore. This has probably more to do with my preferred style of retrieve than anything else.

On the smaller scale my catch-rates on bream and perch have definitely improved. The one area where I have noticed the biggest difference is when these fish are shutdown. Typically bream and perch are quite easy to catch when they are in a feeding mood. When conditions change and they clock-off the bite they can be the most frustrating fish in the sea. I’m finding scents are allowing me to target these inactive fish with some degree of success.

It’s important to note that scents are not a magical antidote. Lures have to be worked painstakingly slow and methodically to get these shutdown fish to bite. When the scent is wafted in the face of the fish long enough for the fish to taste and smell it, then my catch rates improve as a result. Usually the bites are still quite timid and reaction times need to be lightning fast. Bream and perch have a tendency to spit the lure extremely quick. So much for the marketing blurb that fish just “hold-on”!


The killer scent for bream is the Gulps. This should come as no surprise. The comp gurus have been utilising this product for quite a while now. I simply can’t go past the 2” Shrimp and 2” Grubs in all colours on bream. For some added zest, use S-Factor on the Gulps when the fish are really playing hardball.

S-Factor is the business on our native species. S-Factor was actually field tested on bass as well as snapper, bream, barra and jewies. For this reason it is the dominant player in the sweet water. Use sparingly though, as Dr Diggles informed me it’s like adding chilli to food. Just the right amount makes the lure taste better, use too much and fish will burn their mouths.

The new Atomic Guzzlerz and Ripperz seem to be the goods as well. I have used the Atomic range extensively over the past three years and recently started to add S-Factor to them. They were my go-to brand for a long time. Even though the new Guzzler Bio-Baits now include a scent, I guess out of habit I still apply S-Factor. The new 3” Jerk Minnows are deadly and are a great mixed-bag option. They are slightly too big for bream and slightly too small for jewies but still catch their fair share of both species and a swag of flatties in the process. The Prongs are a real winner on bream as well. The good news here is the Guzzlerz won’t dry out left out of the bag. They only biodegrade when left in the water for a period of time. The Ripperz are basically the old Atomics but repackaged. They also have scent but not as powerful as the newer Guzzlerz.

Slam Baits with Ultrabite should rate some mention. While I haven’t had particular success I probably haven’t given them the necessary attention either. I will concede they are decent on flatties and are quite resilient to the raspy teeth of the dusky. My dad loves ’em because he feels he gets value for money. The one lure catches him plenty of fish. My only concern with Slams is the pheromone technology used. It was developed on European species so therefore not really specific to our fish. Surely there isn’t a universal pheromone that stimulates all species? New Zealanders go nuts over it, though.

Some other notable success stories are the new Fishbites Xtreme out of the Basser Millyard stable. These have been quite successful on kingfish in the Pittwater area and are quite a durable plastic, too. The lure that’s been doing the damage has been the Fishbites 5” Jerk Bait, typically in the ghost colour (white). Silver trevallies in Botany don’t seem to mind them either.

There is also another player on the market with little publicity thus far. Well, that’s the case in NSW anyway. They are Exudes from Queensland’s L. Wilson & Co. While on the surface they look like any other scented competitor, initial field testing has found them to be decent on our estuary species. While I haven’t used them enough to be categorically convinced, if the current catch rates continue we might have another option to S-Factor and Gulps. The scent used claims to be water soluble and the marketing spiel is impressive as well. Keep your eye out for this one.

The last point here should be on the S-Factor. By now I’m sure you can tell I live and die by this stuff. My only issue is that in order to obtain it Squidgy corners you to buy their lures. It’s a cunning marketing plan and I understand why they do it. My personal opinion is this attractant should be sold separately. I still use Squidgys and don’t discourage their appeal but the S-Factor will make any lure a true fish catcher. Admittedly the Squidgys’ design and texture does hold the S-Factor goo better than most smooth surface lures where re-application is done more regularly. At 10 bucks a whack for a 5g satchel the cost can certainly mount up!


What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.