Do You Stink?

We get questions emailed to us all the time, some are simple to answer, but some require a higher level of enlightenment. For those questions, we seek out the answers from our resident expert, The Oracle. Unfortunately, the Oracle was fishing when this question came in, so I took a swing at it...

As I sit here at my vise, I wonder if I'm doing anything that might put the fish off my nymphs. Do my hands and materials have a good or bad smell?
I know the gear and bait fishermen swear by different scents when fishing for salmon and steelhead. Does anyone use scent on their flies? When tying flies, should I squeeze some garlic on my fingers before I start?
Anyhow, I thought this might lead to an interesting newsletter article.


Well, I'm not sure where to go with this inquiry...but here goes.

Some people have a scent that could put off fish, but you would have to ask someone smarter than me to understand why they do and if fish cared about the smell at all. I'm sure there are studies on the subject, but I haven't looked into it personally. I do know some anglers tend to be "luckier" than others; perhaps they smell better to fish.

Then we have to look at the different fish we target. Some, like sharks, would love the smell of blood in the water, while tuna may have a PTSD-type response. So, I'm guessing you would need an extensive collection of "scents" to have the right one for every species and occasion. I can see perhaps a species-specific collection, nicely packaged in an easy-to-use "dipping tray." If mashed Caddis wasn't working, you could give them a whiff of blended Mayfly. Just don't try to pass off Ode de Stonefly in August.

I would think if someone smoked cigars or consumed massive amounts of alcohol and put off bathing for a few days, they would excrete a scent unfavorable to fish. Yet, I will acknowledge that many anglers fall into that category, so I don't see a negative impact of that practice other than putting off the fairer sex or getting booted out of the tent.

As far as adding scent to flies, in my opinion, that's not fly fishing. Then again, fly fishing has evolved to include many things that would be blastomas to early practitioners of the sport. I would suppose that each angler would need to draw his own line in the sand, defining what fly fishing is to them.

I do recall sending a pair of waders for repair for a local guide a few years ago. While packing them up, a bottle of foul-smelling red liquid fell from the pocket. When I inquired about the contents of said bottle, "uh, cough syrup, yeah, cough syrup," was the reply. I hope it worked for his cough because it smelled like dead shrimp and Salmon eggs left in the sun for a week.

While I appreciate the question, I believe I will leave this subject to the Oracle. Look for his new advice column, "Ask the Oracle," in the next newsletter.


14 Oct 2022
People like many predators secrete a substance called serene especially through the palms of their hands and soles of their feet when in a predatory mode. When it comes to fly fishing I don't use scents but do wash my hands with lemon dish soap, the idea being to eliminate any offensive odor because it will trump any good odor or taste. Gear fishing, now that's a much longer story.
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