Heartland Outdoors

Role of Scent in Bass Fishing

Wed, September 13, 2017

By Steve Pennaz
Do fish scents work? Allow me to share a story …

We pulled up on shallow flat as dawn was breaking and shut down the main engine. The plan for the day was to sight-fish; as soon as the sun rose a bit higher we’d have the light we’d need to start.

Larry saw the push before I did as a school of a dozen or so reds stormed over the shallow flat. It was clear the fish were on the prowl.

Our baits, tail-hooked 4-inch Gulp! Shrimp, landed just two feet apart and 15 feet ahead of the approaching fish. We let our baits sink the foot or so to the bottom, then let them sit motionless.

I’ll never forget what happened next.

When the fish picked up the scent of our baits, they went into a near frenzy! Every fish began darting back and forth, much like a bird dog on the scent of a pheasant. Within seconds, Larry grunted “fish!” then lifted his rod to set the hook. I choked back my response when a second red smoked my bait.

“Amazing,” grunted Larry. I couldn’t disagree.

Power of Scent & Flavor

If I had ever doubted the power of scent in triggering strikes, it was erased that morning on Florida’s Mosquito Lagoon. But I’ll be the first to admit that I have never witnessed the same response to scent in freshwater, particularly when fishing bass. In fact, I’ve asked the question myself, “Does scent play a significant role in triggering bass strikes?”

According to fisheries research biologist Dr. Hal Schramm, who recently retired so he could fish more and teach less, bass are physically well equipped to pick up scent in freshwater.

“But scent disperses really slowly in water,” he said, “so it’s unlikely a bass will pick up and respond to a scent that comes off a fast-moving bait like a crank or spinnerbait in standing water. Scent dispersion is higher in moving water, but does it impact feeding behavior? Possibly.

Bass researcher and author of Knowing Bass—The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish, Dr. Keith Jones, who recently retired after a legendary career with Berkley, dedicated decades to studying fish response to both scent and flavor.

In the mid-1980s, Jones’ research lead to improvements in Berkley’s existing family of “Strike” fish attractants—while he and chemist John Prochnow were secretly developing a new scented product that would revolutionize the soft bait scene.

In 1988, Berkley released PowerBait Trout Bait, which literally took the trout world by storm and is still one of the most popular trout baits in use today.

In 1989, Berkley unveiled the PowerBait Power Worm and the Power Grub, a pair of PVC-based beauties infused with the natural attractants – scent and flavor - that research revealed bass couldn’t resist.
The baits offered proven profiles and the realistic action of other soft plastics.
Response was both immediate and strong—both baits gained widespread favor among millions of anglers, which in turn fueled the development of the broad line of PowerBait products that continues to this day.

Limitations of Soft Plastic

The challenge with baits made of petroleum-based PVC, at least when it comes to scent is this: oil and water don’t mix, so while the various PowerBait shapes were infused with scent that Jones’ research showed generated positive responses from bass in his lab, achieving significant scent dispersion was a challenge tough to overcome with the base material used.

Berkley research, however, did show that PowerBait’s built-in flavors enticed biting fish to hang on up to 18 times longer than other artificial baits—giving anglers more time to set the hook.

Flavor is not a topic discussed much in fishing circles, which is not surprising as the primary goal is generating strikes, so I asked Schramm about it. His response was interesting.

“Fishing was slow for me yesterday morning,” he started. “I had six bites, but didn’t hook up on a single bass using a drop shot and wacky-rigged stick worm. The issue…fish were grabbing the end of the worm—-not the entire bait. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but driving home I realized that I faced a situation that truly called for a bait that offered both scent and flavor.”

PowerBait excels with active presentations aimed at fish that are using their vision and lateral line to track down prey. To add offerings that could attract fish to the angler’s bait by smell and taste—Jones and Prochnow created Gulp!

Brought to market in 2003 after years of exhaustive research and testing, the water-based softbait released water-soluble scents like nothing anglers or the fish had seen. Ideal for slow-moving and stationary presentations, it was a great compliment to PowerBait.

Although Gulp! developed a reputation for producing a ton of fish in saltwater, it never really took off in the bass market. One of the issues was most bass anglers rig and fish multiple rods—and Gulp! dries out when you leave it on a boat deck.

So, Berkley set out to develop a line of soft baits that offered all the benefits of a soft plastic with the scent dispersion qualities of Gulp!. Berkley is calling its new bait line PowerBait MaxScent.

New PowerBait MaxScent

With new PowerBait MaxScent, which hits the market this month, Berkley combines the best properties of PowerBait and Gulp! into one highly effective package.

MaxScent baits are all offer superb action, are very durable, and the soft material releases a super-charged scent field into the surrounding water. Plus, the baits stay soft and pliable for weeks, even when left rigged on the deck for days. Last spring, I left several baits out of the package for two full months to see what would happen and every one remained soft and fishable the entire time!

All shapes in the current PowerBait MaxScent line are designed to target the freshwater bass market. I’ve had the chance to fish all 8 shapes in waters from south to north and found them to be truly deadly on spots, smallmouth, and largemouths.

The new MaxScent shapes include:

1. The General—a 5-inch stickworm that wobbles very well on the fall. This is the bait bass anglers everywhere have been waiting for Berkley to offer. Not only does it trigger strikes, the bait is tough…catching 3-4 bass per lure is common.

2. King Tail—a thick, 8-inch, curl-tailed worm with reversed ribs for greater scent dispersion. It’s a great summer and fall worm.

3. Lunch Worm—a meaty, 6-inch ribbed worm with curl tail. It’s small, but substantial. I’ve found it excels Texas-rigged in cover or fished in grass on an open jig hook.

4. Meaty Chunk—this 3-inch jig trailer features a classic chunk shape with added material for superb strength when rigged. Its long claws flap strongly on the fall and swim enticingly on the lift.

5. Flat Nose Minnow—4 inches long and thin, this bait dances like a real minnow when fished on drop-shot rig. The bait’s flat nose stays on drop shot setups well, and hook-up ratios are awesome. I have also fished it on Berkley’s new Snap Jig with good results.

6. D-Worm—a 5½-inch worm ideal for shaky head jigs and drop-shotting. The bait’s bulbous tail dances in a life-like manner.

7. Creature Hawg—Fishing with Gary Klein on Guntersville last spring, we landed more than 20 bass to 6 pounds fishing the Creature Hawg deep on heavy shakey heads. The 4-inch bait looks like a standard creature bait with four appendages and tons of ribs.

8. Hit Worm—a thin, 4½-inch finesse worm designed for drop-shotting but versatile enough for multiple rigging options. The loose tail action allows more movement at slower speeds.
hit worm

Collectively, these new PowerBait MaxScent baits take the venerable PowerBait family to new heights, while giving bass fans everywhere a variety of exciting new options to add to their arsenals.