Angling Fact of Life: The Negative Scent Factor in Ice Fishing

Doesn’t matter which species – walleye, pike, perch, crappies, or bluegills – fish detecting unnatural odors will cost you bites this winter

If something doesn’t smell right, every creature bails. Even subtle, unnatural odors cause people, other mammals, and fish to avoid potential food sources.

Allowing nasty smells, such as nicotine or exhaust fumes from your ice auger, to envelope your bait is the equivalent of placing rancid leftovers on your dinner plate. Fish have a keen sense of smell, and they won’t take (or hold) your bait if it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Many odors can contaminate bait. Maybe it’s gasoline on your gloves from topping off the tank before hitting the ice. Maybe it’s exhaust from your ice auger, maybe you’re using bar soap with deodorant, or maybe you shouldn’t be pulling on that big old cigar while you’re fishing. A lot of this is common sense!

Terry Tuma
Terry Tuma

Fish are extra picky in the winter. With their slower, cold-weather metabolism, they weigh their food sources more. Once a fish is attracted to our bait and lure, he inhales it. That taste test is what pays off, and if it doesn’t taste right, he’ll reject it in a fraction of a second.

Remember that fresh bait tastes right! If it doesn’t smell right, it probably won’t taste right. It’s gotta taste good and must feel good in their mouth.

Many anglers, myself included, have fish attractant in their summer tackle box to help mask unwanted odors. I’m not so sure those products attract fish, but I do believe they mask unnatural odors, so fish hang on a split-second longer, and that can mean more hookups

It’s hard to use soap on the ice, which is why I use an attractant. Other ways to eliminate unnatural scents might be as easy as rubbing some snow in your hands or on your gloves. I’ve even sacrificed an unlively-looking minnow out of my bucket to use as a cover scent on my hands.

Keep a couple pairs of gloves. Use one for gassing up or drilling with your ice auger. Wear the other pair for actually fishing. This is just simple logic here, folks.

Final note: electric augers, which by definition don’t give off exhaust fumes, are coming on strong across the marketplace.

Fish have a great sense of smell, and in cold weather, there are fewer scents overwhelming their underwater world. That means they’re hyper-aware of anything unnatural. Work around that fact of nature to catch more fish this winter.

Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Ice Fishing Gear!

Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.