Do bass smell? If you forget one in the livewell in the summer they certainly do. A better way to put it would be "do bass have a sense of smell?" And the answer is a definite "maybe."
How Do Bass "Smell"?
Bass can't detect scents like we do since they don't have noses and don't inhale air. If they can pick up scents they have to be able to do it through the water with some other organ. And they can. The tiny holes that look like they may be the nostrils of bass do lead to a set of nerves that can detect things in the water but they don't lead to the throat and the bass don't inhale and exhale water over them. So they can't "smell" like we do but they can detect things we describe a smells.
Do Scents Make A Difference?
Many bass fishermen swear by putting scents on their baits and many types of bait, especially soft plastics, come with built in scents. You can buy special soaps to wash smells off your hands before fishing. But do they really make a difference?
History Of Scents
Jelly Worms from Mann's bait company seem to have started the scent craze. Those of us around in the late 60s and early 70s remember the different flavors of Jelly Worms and the scents matched the color. For example, grape Jelly Worms smelled like grape jelly and were purple in color. And they caught fish.
When I first started club tournament fishing in 1974 Everett Beal owned a drug store in Griffin and was a member of the Spalding County Sportsman Club. He was an avid fisherman and he kept bottles of anise oil in stock in his store. Anise oil smells like licorice and is the basis for many scents that came later.
Many of us would get a bottle of anise oil from Beal's Pharmacy and a bottle of vanilla extract from the grocery store and mix them together. I kept mine in a pint jar and dipped my plastic worms and other baits in the concoction while fishing. Some times it seemed to help get more bites but it definitely always made me hungry when I opened the jar and smelled the sweet scent.
Popular Scents Change
Popular scents seem to go through stages. Sweet smells were popular 35 years ago and are still used. Net Bait plastics come with the licorice anise oil smell in them. For a time there was a move toward natural smells and some add on scents were made with crawfish, shad and other smells that the bass should like.
Garlic is a popular scent now and you can scent up your bait with garlic as well as change colors with dip and dyes like J.J.'s Magic or Spike It. Although salt is not just a scent, many plastics like the ones from Zoom come impregnated with salt. It is supposed to help attract bass bites and make them hold on longer.
Some baits like Berkley's Power Baits are made with natural ingredients and have a natural scent that bass are supposed to like. And many companies have done research and developed special scents made to attract bass. Some claim they use amino acids, the basics of proteins, so you will get more bites. You can find just about any scent you can imagine, and all make claims to help you land more bass.
Scents come built into bait or you spray them on, rub jells or powders on your baits or just dip them to add the scents. Some bass fishermen swear by certain scents either because they think they work or because they are sponsored by the company making them.
The bottom line, like almost everything in bass fishing, is to use scents if they work for you. Confidence is more important than anything else when it comes to catching bass so if using scents gives you more confidence, use them.