Skip to main content

How Sense of Smell Helps in Fishing

How an under-appreciated sense can help your fishing.

Sharp, melon-like odor of fish may have led this angler to the baitslick above.

Rewind to the summer of 2010. In the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Food and Drug Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service began employing highly sophisticated instruments to detect contamination in seafood products.



That's right: Humans sat down and sniffed samples of shrimp. Authorities knew what they were doing. The human olfactory sense can detect oil in water as diluted as one part per million (ppm). The “sniff test” was much quicker and cheaper than chemical analyses costing $800 per sample and requiring several days.

Veteran anglers have long known to trust their noses—and for more than just verifying the edibility (or bait-worthiness) of shrimp. There are other ways, too, how sense of smell helps in fishing.

›› A few sniffs can detect faint gas or diesel fumes in a bilge. This particular sniff test is always a smart way to begin your day, and a critical safety procedure after refueling an inboard or I/O vessel.

›› Many saltwater anglers smell a school of menhaden or sardines before they start looking for them. Some say the smell is reminiscent of cantaloupe. Captain Chip Blackwell, who fishes the Miss Mary out of Mexico Beach, starts looking for schools of bait before they show up on his fishfinder. He then works upwind until he sees them on the surface or they mark on the screen. Bluefish or mackerel tearing through oily baits will magnify the melony scent.

›› In fresh water, most every bream fisherman contends he can locate bedding bluegills by the smell alone. It's often described as a rich, musty, earthy smell.

›› An angler fishing in the back cove of a lake knows that the distinct smell of hydrogen sulfide gas—like rotting eggs—means that either that part of the lake has a lot of dead vegetation on the bottom, or their fishing partner had chili. In either case, it's time to move the boat.

›› At the same time, that sulfurous odor in the mangrove bays of peninsular Florida indicates a healthy ecosystem. Where bacteria are breaking down the leaf litter, crabs and other small prey items are sure to be found. An especially strong “eggy” smell in this environment may be a sign of low oxygen, which means keep your eyes peeled for rolling or laid-up tarpon.

›› The sharp, gunpowder scent of dried bird poop is another one familiar to inshore fishermen. Pelicans and herons often roost near good fishing holes.

One problem with relating our sense of smell in fishing logs or among friends is a lack of descriptive vocabulary. We have dozens of terms for water color, sky patterns and other visual clues. And yet, the ability to detect four drops of oil in 50 gallons of water would be the equivalent of having high-powered binoculars for eyes.

Maybe it's time we begin paying attention to what's right under our noses? - FS

First Published Florida Sportsman magazine, April 2012.

Click Here to Have Florida Sportsman Delivered to Your Door.

 

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

Refurbished 1987 Alumacraft Jon Boat | One Man's Dreamboat

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Learn

New Berkley Finisher: The All-Around Live Sonar Lure

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

New Berkley Power Switch: Powerhouse Lure Designed for Foward-Facing Sonar

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

New Berkley Krej: A Reversed Lip Jerkbait?

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

How to Install New Fuel Tanks in an Old Boat

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Videos

Testing Out the Latest from Old Town in the Marquesas

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

How to Powder Coat: Benefits of Powder Coating Metal Fuel Tanks

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

Father & Son Customize a 20' Center Console | One Man's Dreamboat

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Gear

Best Features of the Shallow Sport X3

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Learn

How to Fix an Outboard Motor that was Submerged in Saltwater

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

Analyzing a Hurricane Damaged Boat for Restoration

The crew at Marine Customs Unlimited get started on the finishing touches for the Albury Brothers build with a custom da...
Store

How to Design & Build a Custom Dash Panel for a Boat

Florida Sportsman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now