What is the best scent for trout fishing?
When it comes to trout fishing and scent, there are two schools of thought. One is to offer an aroma that trout can’t resist, and the other is to hide or mask all traces of human scent, so trout will not shy away from the bait.
It is the same in the hunting world where some will go to elaborate lengths to wash, dry, and store jackets, pants, boots, and shirts, so there is not a trace of human scent. Others will go about their business as usual but put a few drops of skunk or mink oil on their boots while approaching a blind baited with aromatic Kool-Aid, sugar, and salt.
That’s what humans think, but what do trout actually prefer?
Best Scent for Trout Fishing
Trout have nostrils on both sides of their snouts, just below the eyes. You’ve probably seen these little indentations if you’ve been catching brookies, rainbows, or browns for a while.
Trout have a very refined sense of smile. In laboratory experiments, they can smell up to a mile away from a scent source.
That’s something to take into consideration when you’re trout fishing. Trout can cover a mile in open water quickly, but the smell dissipates across a lake at the speed of the current. It can take hours, even days, for a scent to move to the maximum mile range of a trout’s sense of smell. The scent carried by water is just as potent as that carried through the air, it just takes a lot longer to arrive, and with our limited senses, we don’t notice it as well as fish are able to.
Do Trout Like Garlic? A Flavor Guide For Trout Bait
As predators, often the apex predator of a stream, lake, or reservoir, trout are meat-eaters. They won’t be attracted to sweet smells.
Garlic, salt, cheese, and oil will attract certain species of trout at certain times of the day. Oil, in particular, olive oil, or oil-impregnated with decayed fish parts can generate a smell pattern quickly on a lake with the help of water and air currents.
Trout hit cheese baits often. Cheese, in particular, a clump of cheddar is a great bait that arrives with its own scent trail.
Cheese is popular among novice anglers since it is easy to clump and squeeze onto a hook.
Garlic, specially prepared in dough balls with cheese, is a good bait.
Scented baits work better with stocked fish than they do with naturally spawned trout. Fish hatcheries feed hatchlings, and fingerlings, with a mixture of cornmeal and ground, dried fish. Even after years in the wild, these hatchery trout remember those early meals and are attracted to corn.
That’s why corn is often an illegal bait to use for trout fishing. Images of a giblet fresh out of a can of corn hooked onto a small hook seem comical, but dough balls, mixed with cheese, cornmeal, and garlic will attract hatchery fish.
You should check your local regulations on this type of bait, since the rules vary greatly from state to state.
If you were to mix the Play-Doh that little kids love with ground earthworms, maybe a little cheese, and add pink or yellow coloring you’d have a fair facsimile of Powerbait.
Powerbait is a registered trademark that comes in those nice little plastic baby food-sized jars. It smears easily on the hook and stays there since it is water-resistant. Hatchery trout will smell Powerbait and quickly move in.
Much to the chagrin of many anglers trekking to the streams and small beaver ponds of the Rocky Mountains, Powerbait doesn’t work that well. Maybe it’s the altitude, but most likely it is the lack of corn in an otherwise natural diet among the native spawners of the Rockies.
Brook trout, rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, even lake trout will all hit occasionally on a scented bait.
How Do You Scent a Lure?
A little secret many anglers don’t share is keeping their favorite lures in a worm box, or on the bottom of the minnow storage bucket. The spinner, spoon, or jig takes on the smell of those wriggling earthworms in that Styrofoam storage box quickly. If a spinner catches the light and smells like a shiner minnow, odds are good you’re going to get a strike from a hungry brown or rainbow.
Trout hit worms well, but many of the best trout fishing areas now have restrictions on using live bait of any type. You can get around this by storing your spoons, spinners, and even your Gulp rubber minnows in a worm box. The grimier the worm box, the better the smell on those artificial lures.
There aren’t any federal regulations against what a lure smells like, just that you can’t often use worms or minnows in National Parks, and sometimes in the National Forests.
What To Do When You Don’t Want Trout to Know You’re Around?
The flip side of using scented bait is to fish with no scent trail at all. There are a few ways to do this, but they require careful handling of lures, rods, and lines. The line can carry human scent just as firmly as those brass lures can.
Some anglers wear non-scented latex gloves where they’re handling their trout fishing gear, but that idea never lasts once you’re out on the water.
As a teenager, I worked summers mowing lawns, moving teacher classrooms between floors, repairing lockers, and resurfacing gymnasium floors at the local high school and junior high.
I got to know the superintendent well during those summer months. James Moore was his name, and he was well into his 70s, working on a short-term contract as a replacement administrator.
Mr. Moore was an avid fisherman, a guy who was always after the biggest lake trout you could find.
In Fremont County, Wyoming, there is a trophy reservoir for gigantic lake trout inside the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Bull Lake, built as an irrigation reservoir behind a gravel and rock dam on Bull Lake Creek. The valley filled with water once the dam was in place was steep with a lot of rocky outcroppings offering tremendous structure once the water arrived.
Mr. Moore’s son worked for a national outdoor equipment company, so he had footlocker-sized tackle boxes to load each time he went out on Bull Lake in his boat.
We talked a few times early in the summer, then he asked me if I would like to go fishing with him one Saturday morning. What red-blooded American boy wouldn’t?
He said bring your rod, but don’t bring any other equipment. I thought it was because his son had him so well-equipped that he would just share his gear with me. That was part of the reason, but not the entire part.
What scent do trout like the most?
Mr. Moore was a firm believer in scent management when trolling for lake trout. Trout in general and lake trout specifically are repelled by gasoline, motor oil, cigarette fumes, and other artificially created smells.
Mr. Moore wouldn’t use a gasoline engine, instead, I helped him load three 12-volt car batteries into his open aluminum boat, so we could use the trolling motor.
Once we were out on the water, he stopped the boat and pulled out a couple of large plastic pill bottles. Then he opened the cooler, took out an egg, cracked it, and put the egg white and yolk into the bottle.
We were using Five-of- Diamonds, and mottled brass spoons, with weights attached for depth that morning.
He proceeded to dip the weights, the swivels, and finally the lures into the mixed eggs, not touching them after their egg bath.
He handed me the bottle, then turned and cast his spoon into the lake.
He told me to do the same thing, so for the first time on the water, I washed the lures (his lures) that I was using in that egg bath.
We caught a lot of trout that day, no monsters, but respectable eight to 10-pound lake trout. His record was a 27-pound monster he caught a few years later.
The point is, he actively worked to remove all track of man from the water.
You can use scented baits to attract trout, or you can mask all traces of human scent from them, either way, smell management is a powerful tool for every trout angler to consider.
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