Salmon Sense

The following blog post comes to us from Fish Alaska contributing editor and noted angler Scott Haugen, whose many books are available through his website.

If humans had as strong a sense of smell as salmon, life would not be pretty.  Being able to detect odors measured in parts per billion, salmon are one of nature's most amazing stories.  Think of it, being born in one location, leaving when you’re a child, and returning to that exact location as an aging adult, all while being guided by your nose: that’s impressive.

Knowing that salmon have such sensitive sniffers, it is to the angler’s advantage to do all within their power to keep things clean and free of foul odors.  Some anglers are fanatics over this, others don’t pay much mind to it.  But in the competitive world of salmon fishing, it only makes sense to control our scents in an effort to gain an advantage.  Here are some points to consider during your next salmon season.

1.  Wash Towels

Most anglers fishing from a boat or the bank carry a towel along for keeping their hands clean. Like many folks, I make it a point to have several towels in the boat, or backups in the rig when bank fishing. The key is keeping them clean. At the end of each trip, wash each towel, even if they were used only one time.  Fish slime, blood and bait residues quickly rot, and taint towels.

There have been times when I’ve forgotten to wash my towels and then gone out fishing the next day; they smelled so rank, I didn’t want to use them.  I often encounter other anglers whose towels smell the same, rank and sour.  You know if these odors are offensive to human noses, how bad they must smell to fish.  To reuse these dirty towels and then touch the terminal gear is a surefire way to transfer stench odors that repel fish.

At the end of the day, gather up all the towels and throw them in the wash, or replace them with fresh ones and wash the others later.  Try to use only clean, dry towels at the start of each trip.

2.  Wash Plugs

Whether fishing wrapped plugs or not, making the effort to keep them clean is of vital importance.  Plugs that have been wrapped contain oil remnants from the fillets, and when drying, these residues solidify on the plug, often producing repulsive odors.  At the same time, handling plugs with bare hands leaves human oils behind, something which may also make the difference in whether or not a fish bites (this explains why some anglers wear rubber gloves).

Prior to placing plugs back in the box at the end of the day, take a few minutes to wash them in hot, soapy water.  If you have a sled boat with a hot-water basin built in, these are excellent features and save time by allowing you to wash plugs as they’re used.  Simply toss the plugs in the hot water bin, let them soak, then give them a quick scrub-down with a brush and soap.

If you have to wait until you get home to wash the plugs, a toothbrush and some aggressive scrubbing is often required to fully remove all unwanted buildup.  When done, hang the plugs and allow them to air dry prior to placing back in the tackle box.  If you find yourself on the water and not catching fish, this step may explain why your favorite plug may have quit producing.

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3.  Rubber Gloves

As anglers grow more aware of the value of masking unwanted odors, more and more gloved hands are being seen on the river.  Rubber gloves are likely the best way to inhibit human odor from being transferred to gear.  The key is getting gloves that don’t tear, or that are too thick.  Thin, white latex gloves are fine when working with baits at home, but tear easily when on the river.

What you want are the blue or purple gloves made with the substance called nitrile.  Nitrile gloves won’t react with skin like latex can and are sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of every day fishing.  Buy these gloves in bulk, for not only is the long-term investment smart, but it allows you to have plenty on hand.

In case you’re skeptical about the effectiveness of rubber gloves, don’t be.  One summer I fished for kings with two buddies.  We worked fresh eggs on the Nushagak, all day long, baiting our own hooks.  In the morning, I didn’t wear rubber gloves, my buddies did.  They landed 22 fish between the two of them, I landed 3.  In the afternoon I switched to masking scents and soaps, they still wore gloves and caught twice as many fish as me.  In the evening, I went with gloves, as did they, and we were all within one fish of each other.

4.  Preventative Options

For those who don’t like wearing rubber gloves all day, there are alternatives. Xtreme Scents has a disposable scent wipe that comes in a small container. The container itself is compact and the wipes are easy to pull out. The purpose of the Scent Eliminator Wipes is to eliminate bacterial and other foreign odors which may be transferred by humans.

Another option is the use of masking soaps. There are several options when it comes to masking foreign scents, and all are cost-efficient and take only seconds to apply.  Mike’s Ab-Scent Sportsman Soap, for instance, is a liquid soap that comes in a two-ounce squeeze bottle.  Its compact size and easy-to-use design makes it quick and effective.

Perhaps the most famous cleansing soap is Joy, in lemon scent.  Reports from the bass fishing industry claim this soap is highly effective in cutting unwanted smells and human odors, which explains why it’s found in the boats of many top salmon and steelhead anglers.  A couple drops applied to the hands every half-hour, or after handling objects with tainted odors, can make the difference between catching a fish or not.

There are numerous details that we, as anglers, can tend to in order to help keep things clean.  Often times it’s the attention to such details that can make a difference in our success.  This season, start by managing what’s comfortable.  Note your efforts and what appears to work.  Before long you’ll be going the extra distance, and hopefully will be rewarded with increased catch-rates.