Sunday Classic / Scent attractor in fly fishing?

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Leave a bad taste in your mouth? Photo by Louis Cahill

Leave a bad taste in your mouth? Photo by Louis Cahill

I recently did a photo-shoot for Attraxx, a company whose name may be familiar to some of you.

Attraxx makes soft plastic baits for gear fishing in both fresh and saltwater. These aren’t your grandfather’s rubber worms. The plastics are infused with five patented attractors that stimulate fish into striking. It’s apparently far more complex than just scent or taste and frankly I don’t totally understand all of the details. These guys have a handful of PhDs to my none, but I spent a few days watching these high tech baits in action and I can tell you they work insanely well.

I’m not a gear fisherman. I don’t say that because I feel like I’m above it. Gear fishing takes a lot of skill and knowledge, it’s just not my thing. I don’t do it so I’m not good at it and I don’t understand it. Doug Long, the man behind Attraxx, does understand it. I’ve known Doug for years as a skilled fly fisherman and we’ve wetted our boots together on plenty of occasions so I was surprised to hear that he was now running a plastic bait company.

I was even more surprised to hear that Attraxx is considering new products for fly fishermen. Imagine that, flies tied with materials that release neural stimulators into the water, whipping fish into a feeding frenzy. A couple of years ago I’d have said, “no way! Nobody will buy it,” but these days, I’m not so sure. Let’s look at the trend.

People raised a fuss when fly tyers started using foam in their flies. There are still a few fly fishing competitions that do not allow foam but I wager that everyone reading this has a foam pattern or two in their box. I know I do. For that matter fly tyers have embraced all manner of synthetics in their patterns and with good reason. They work! What’s the difference between foam and rubber legs? This trend has played out so far that my tying materials now include condoms. It was a tough sell for my wife the first time I packed condoms for a fishing trip but now even she thinks it’s OK.

Streamer fisherman (and I count myself) are among the greatest innovators or worst offenders, depending on how you look at it. I’ve had friends laugh out loud at my streamer patterns, only to ask for a closer look after the third or fourth fish. They are all articulated, some have rattling beads or move like a rapala and most have as much flash as a Kiss concert.

Saltwater tyers are not new to this game either. The first fly I ever saw with a rattle was a permit fly. This trickery doesn’t end there. Montana Fly Company’s new “Crabby Patty”, a fly I love, features lifelike cast rubber crab claws and legs and an actual photo of a crab shell on it’s back. That’s right, a photo! I mean, damn!

One of the coolest new fly fishing products for 2013 is West Water’s Spectrum Response. A spray that makes flies glow under UV light. Under the right conditions it works and I’ve used it and recommended it and I don’t have any ethical issue with it.

So why am I recoiling at the idea of scent attractors?

What’s the difference between what works and what works too well? Where is the line? Is there a line? I’ve embraced synthetics and flash and rattles and articulation and photocopies and glow-in-the-dark hair spray. Why does scent feel wrong?

I’m not going to pretend to have the answer. What I want is to know is what you think. I’m sure there will be a great outcry against this idea and I want to hear it, but what I’m really curious about is who can sell me on the idea. If you’re thinking, “where can I get me some of that Attraxx stuff?” please! Tell me what you think.

I’m listening…and so are they.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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29 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Scent attractor in fly fishing?

  1. Louis,

    It feels “wrong” because it over the line. Scent is close to taste, and both are associated with bait. I’d say that if you’re using a scent that attracts fish, you might as well be using bait (although that might be hard to keep attached after a couple of double hauls).

    Anyway, we toss files not bait or lures (we get close to that boundary too sometimes). It’s funny that we are trying to trick fish based on two senses–sight (flash, size, color, profile, etc) and movement (lateral line, fly action), but not smell or taste. We accept and know that if a fish takes our fly they can spit it out in a fraction of a second if we miss the hook set–THAT makes it exciting. With bait or a scent, the fish comes to your offering with you doing nothing. With our flies we have to drift it to them, swing it in front of them, or strip it in the vicinity.

    Most fly fishermen are sportsmen and not trying to put food on the table. Most practice catch and release. We usually hook fish on the mouth instead down deep resulting in a prolonged life of the fish. With scents, your fly could end up in their stomach.

    Lastly, many/most red zones with reduced bag limits or catch and release areas do not allow scents. So why bother? Are you going to have a box full of scented flies?? Are you only going to harvest those fish if they get hooked deep?

    You’re recoiling because you know it’s “wrong” for fly fishermen. I won’t be using it.

      • I don’t recall fish swimming up and taking a sniff of my flies before striking. Would one come from the bottom of a pool because it smelled my fly from a distance? I don’t think so. It doesn’t make sense to me. But, just like Tenkara; ($200. for a bream pole), If they can sell it, more power to them.

  2. Personally, I have no problem with it. I fish flies, I fish gear, I fish scented/flavored plastics and I fish live bait. Truly, it’s all just fishing.

    Anyone who doesn’t like the idea of scented flies doesn’t have to use them. It is no different than mop flies, worm flies, egg flies, streamer flies or wet flies fished downstream to trout that weren’t rising. Someone is going to say “that’s not fly fishing!”

    The only definition of fly fishing that matters AT ALL is the one printed in the regulations of the state where you are fishing.

    • I see a significant difference between scented flies and normal egg/worm patterns, wet flies, streamers, etc. None of those are scented. While they may look like their live counterparts, they do not smell or taste like them.

      Technically you’re still fly fishing if you have a scented Hare’s Ear pattern attached, but I’d say you might be putting yourself in a more advantageous position, but not necessarily.

      I do agree that what your specific river/area conditions say is the only thing that legally matters, but we aren’t talking about that even.

      Like PT said below, most places with “fly fishing only” regulations do not allow scents. Even in blue zones (where bait is allowed) I still wouldn’t use it–it’s crossing the line for me.

      Unfortunately, some of the places I fish during the winter I find myself surrounded by bait/lure anglers. It is legal tackle and sometimes they catch more than I do. As a fly angler, I accept that. Some days they aren’t getting anything and I’m hooking up every other cast. They are astonished when I show them a pair of size 20-22 midges and how I can even keep the fish on. And yes, “Joe Bubba” has asked if I was fishing power bait on my fly rod…

  3. This is completely my opinion – Fly fishing and the flies have always been evolving to catch more fish. Beads, bobbers, foam and rubber legs have been debated for years. If it brings more to the sport, more folks will truly appreciate the precious environmental gift we’ve been given. If somebody is tossing a spawn bag to one side and on my other side is another flinging a classic dry, perfect. I have no problem with either if it’s legal and everyone is friendly.
    Great debate – will I use scented flies? Hard to say, I’d like to think I’ve grown wise enough to never say never.
    Thanks, G and G – keep the good stuff coming.
    Faith, Family and Fish

  4. It is against the law, here in California. As it well should be…

    An artificial lure is a man-made lure or fly designed to attract fish. This definition does not include scented or flavored artificial baits.


  5. It is kind of funny reading this post this morning! Right before pulling up G&G, I was reading Hemingway’s “Big Two Hearted River”, and what was interesting is that the main character, Nick, was fishing live grasshoppers on a fly rod. I think the biggest thing as we each continue in the sport of fly fishing is to know what fly fishing means to us individually. For some, it may be light rods and dry flies only. Others may feel more comfortable experimenting with new the latest materials or scents. At the end of the day, no one should take pride in their personal preferences, and no one should feel crappy for having and sticking to personal limitations either. Personally, scented flies is crossing a line for me, but hey, if Tom Rosenbauer starts doing it, maybe I’ll think about trying it lol

    • I have tried scents before and will probably try them again where they are legal. At least for an experiment. But what I do shouldn’t have any bearing on anyone else’s opinion of this. No one complains about putting Sally Hansen’s on heads of flies and that stuff stinks! Shouldn’t we at least try to mask it?

      Fish the way you want to and don’t let anyone else tell you it’s right or wrong.

      • Nailed that!

        Masking is, for me, the key reason to use scents.

        I “wash” my hands with Mega Strike after I’ve put on sunscreen and bug goop…and I work Mega Strike into my bass, pike and musky flies with zero qualms, particularly the first time out.

        If the purists have problems with that…I hope they don’t hurt themselves spinning in place…

        If they want to pretend that trout fishing is somehow more pure than that…or that what do is evil or bad…I feel sorry for them. Really.

  6. I too think that this crosses a line. I for one, the indirect method of most flyfishing techniques, combined with scent or taste (basically one in the same) means lots more swallowed and deep hooks. But I will also say there are part of flyfishing now that I don’t consider flyfishing. I think that at its core, flyfishing is using a weighted line to cast an artificial lure. However, everyone’s definition of flyfishing is diffrent, and I don’t see any reason it matters.

  7. Scented plastics can’t be used (by regulation) in British Columbia steelhead rivers. However they can be used in lakes and saltwater. Personally, I won’t be rushing to the store to spend my money on any of this stuff; by choice. I catch enough fish to satisfy myself now, and that is really all that matters to me.

  8. What do I think?
    Nothing that most people want to hear, I’ll wager.

    And it starts with, “Where can I get some of that Attraxx stuff?”

  9. One thing I’ll never understand is people who look at other variations of what they do for fun as being somehow less pure, less honest…less acceptable.

    I firmly believe in doing what I enjoy, and letting others do the same as long as it is legal.

    Looking down my nose at others for fishing ways I don’t care for is absolutely worse than using bait, or scents…or whatever…who am I to decide what’s pure and clean and free of fishing sin?

    IMO, of course, YMMV, and all other disclaimers in place.

    Now that I’ve finished editorializing…

    I offer the following for perspective on how I arrive at my conclusion:

    I throw gear, a lot. Some days the fly rods never come out because conditions don’t work, or I can tell it’ll be a waste of time, or I just don’t feel like it…

    Other days are the opposite, and the gear stays stashed.

    Those things stated, I have zero problem with scents, and mostly for one reason: they mask all the scents that can get on a fly, or a lure.

    I fly fish for bass, pike and musky far more than I fish for trout. I do that from a boat. Stuff can get on flies/lures pretty easily…and one of the tactics I use, regardless of whether I’m chucking gear or flies is when I’m ready to start fishing, I’ll put a dab of Mega Strike on my hands and work it in. I’ll re-do that now and then throughout the day.

    …and yeah, I’ll work some pike formula into a pike or musky fly, particularly the first time I use it.

    I’m out there to fish, and to catch fish; not to practice my casting.

    If anyone wants to look down on that, I feel sorry for them…it’d be awful to live life that way…

  10. No need for a length “pile on” as I hold much of the same reservations as others have expressed. Suffice it to say; “it just doesn’t feel right.” Too close to bait fishing.

  11. This is funny. I was steelhead fishing this last week with some friends. I asked a guide if he had ever thought of using scent on flies. We had a fun discussion about it and laughed. I told the guys that night and asked them if they had ever thought about using scent on their flies. We all laughed but no one took it seriously. The first time I thought about it was while I was tying a hares ear. My question would be, ‘’what does a caddis nymph smell like?’’

    Would I do it….naw, it would take some of the fund out of fly fishing. I still get a kick out a fish hitting my dry fly without taking.

  12. Do you rub your bonefish flies in the sand/water to remove your scent and apply “natural” scent before you fish them?

  13. Good discussion. I probably won’t use the scented flies for the same reason I have just about quit using San Juan worms — the fish seem to take them too deeply and it is hard to release those I want to release. I guess that is an ethical argument, but beyond that I don’t have a problem with scented flies.

    But I’ve gotta ask: What do you use the condoms for — on a fishing trip, I mean.

  14. If it is legal and doesn’t hurt the resource/environment/fish I don’t care how someone else catches fish. Personally I don’t think I would use scented flies. But I didn’t think I would ever use a bobber either. We fish to have fun that is why it is called recreation so as long as you’re having fun and not doing harm I’m ok with it. Part of what makes fishing fun for me is the challenge. Everyone is different some need more challenge than others it doesn’t make on better than the other just makes us different.

  15. Wow. It looks like you struck a nerve….

    I wouldn’t use scent because to me it’s not fly fishing. If I were to impale a cricket or worm on a hook and cast it out with a fly rod I don’t think anyone would call that fly fishing just because I’m using a fly rod.

    It will be interesting to see how various conservation regulators will view attractants. I’m guessing it won’t be allowed on fly fishing only sections. Most already ban Power Bait in those areas..

    • So…what is “fly fishing”?

      I know my definition is different from most people who fly fish.

      I’m OK with that, and not terribly concerned if others are..or are not…that’s not my problem.

      I learned to fly fish because it gave me a new set of tools to catch fish. Not because it was “better”, or “more refined”, or any of the many ways some ff-ers choose to pretend to separate themselves from the knuckle dragging gear guys…

      That’s all nonsense…

  16. Overall the simplest statement will be this… The market will tell us if it is a desired product.

    On a different level is the rule and regulations. In my home state of Oregon scent is not considered a bait.

    We have regulations where water bodies or sections of rivers are managed for flies and lures only, fly fishing only, and open to all.

    A scent is a lure not a bait. It would work in a flies and lure only area but would be illegal in a fly fishing only water.

    Oregon has definition of fly and how it is constructed. Pretty liberal, but it does not include scent.

    How do each of the states manage the waters of the state? Is scent a bait in some places? Would it be allowed in a fly fishing only regulated water? Is all of this worth it to the company to invest in only to find the world of rules and regulations too confusing and limit
    sales in some states?

    Just my thoughts

  17. As usual fly-fishermen are making too much of something. It’s not a nature made scent, therefore it is an artificial man made scent. Just like all your flies in your fly boxes. It’s not bait! Anyway, make sure you all get up on your high horses now…ya hear.

  18. eh… im cool with most things related to shapes, sounds, movement… but scent? i think i will pass- that just feels chumming imo.

    got to have a line somewhere i guess… albeit many things worse than scent likely go on today like fishing reds, not debarbing hooks…. steelhead on the banks with hero shots etc etc

  19. scented flies, same as power bait. not legal here on hatchery supported or Delayed Harvest. and very few wild streams.
    sounds like mortal gut hook territory to me. that’s why power bait is illegal.
    my .02

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