Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

The (not so) sweet smell of success.

A recent email from my epal Chris Parker stirred me to think about the smell/taste of lures. Chris's email went like this-

Hi Mike,

I was debating an annual clean-up of my lures and whether to use vegetable oil on them (decided not to use fish oil as the wife may not smell the funny side of it!). Then someone suggested WD40. I assumed that the scent would be off-putting to fish, but have now been told by several different people (including World Sea Fishing Forum members) that it’s actually regarded as an attractant!


So I’m planning to give at least some of my lures a good cleaning with it, but figured that it may be a good topic of discussion on your site (I did a search and you’ve not referred to oiling lures) if you preserve lures this (or any other) way?



I have to admit that 'preserving lures' has never been one of my strong points. My lures (unless I lose them) generally get fished to destruction. I use the hooks until I can sharpen them no more and then I replace them with new ones. I often swap the split rings for stainless ones straight away and unless these get strained or damaged they stay on the lure. These days most of the plugs are made of hard plastic and the painted or transfer printed finish generally wears off after a hard season's fishing. To be fair they are pretty good and most of the wear occurs in the places where hook points rub against the body. As a rule it makes no detectable difference to the effectiveness of the lure.

Having said all this I do use WD40 on my reels occasionally. Inevitably traces of this stuff stay on the reels and must get on my hands and my lures. Although I had heard about this idea of anointing lures with it, like Chris I was a bit sceptical but his email led me to think about the whole business of what lures smell/taste like and whether it might do 'any good' to flavour them.

First things first - The webpage above says that - "When sprayed on fishing bait, WD-40 covers up the scent of human hands on the bait to better lure fish(???), according to USA Today. Apparently the WD-40 Company receives hundreds of letters from consumers confirming this use but prefers not to promote WD-40 as a fishing lure (treatment) since the petroleum-based product could potentially pollute rivers and streams, damaging the ecosystem".

I'm not sure about the pollution stuff but why should the scent of human hands deter fish from taking a lure? Answer - it probably doesn't because thousands upon thousands of fish are caught each year on lures that have been handled time and time again. I expect that if enough people tried it you would find that hundreds of anglers would claim to have improved catches by dipping their lures in clean water before fishing. Then there's the old myth about human female pheromones enhancing catches - you can't have it all ways! In the sea it's unlikely that many fish would associate the smell of human hands with danger anyway.

What about the positive aspect of scent. Could it help to give your lure a hint of some natural fish food item? One instance where it DEFINITELY has a positive benefit is in baited spoon fishing for mullet. These fish rarely behave as predators and you can (I know because I've often done it) reel an unbaited lure past their noses for days on end with no sign of interest from the fish. Add a bit of ragworm to the hook and it can (on occasion) result in a 'fish a chuck'. In addition you can SEE the mullet 'tasting' the water as they follow your lure. One up to the benefit of chemical attraction!Flounders are also very susceptible to spoons with bait added.

So now we know that 'bait smells' CAN make a difference to the effectiveness of artificials. In what other circumstances might a lure benefit from some sort of treatment and how could it be achieved?

To return briefly to the mullet example - any species (like mullet) which might follow a lure without taking could possibly be tempted by a suitable addition. Similarly, predatory fish which follow, look at or take short MIGHT be induced to have a go by the presence of traces of 'scent' in the water. In theory the best stuff to use would be an extract of the natural food (say the juice of sandeel, sprat, etc.). It's unlikely that fish in a feeding frenzy have a sniff at the lure before grabbing it but where they have time to examine it at leisure an extra spot of inducement might just make a difference. Slow moving plugs or stationary poppers are obvious candidates for treatment.

How could you add the scent? There are, I believe, lures with special compartments for sponges soaked in fish oil but I think that this is an unnecessary complication. Why not simply impale a tiny sliver of mackerel (or what have you) on one of the hooks? OK so it could affect the lure's action but if you keep it small there's no problem. Some lures are tailor made for the addition of bait. Spinnerbaits, like the ones popular in the USA, are a good example. It is easy to replace the rubber or fibre skirt of these lures with a strip of fish, squid, worm,etc. It works because I've tried it. Another approach is to 'oil'the body of a lure (as Chris suggested). If you want fish oil to stay on longer try mixing it with silicone grease or Vaseline. I used to carry a little pot of pilchard oil/Vaseline mix about with me for years but was never convinced that it made any difference. Perhaps it's time to try it again?

Bass often come and have a look at surface poppers without striking them. A little bit of bait on the tail could induce a few more strikes. Last year I hooked a sandsmelt on a popper and it was promptly taken by a bass so again the idea is probably right. I talked about baited poppers years ago but never got round to giving it a good try. Anyway, if you've any more light to throw on the matter let me know.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Only the addition of a worm makes this 'work'.


Like mullet these flatties are tempted to take by a bit of worm.'

Thin bass.

This one was hungry enough to strike hard but a well fed fish might need tempting?'