That Smell

One of the most least understood and underestimated bits of fishing knowledge is the importance of reducing your scent that you leave on your baited hook and even the line attached to it.  If something smells fishy to you, no doubt, you will be wary.  Beneath the surface, how do you think fish respond to an offerring that smells humanly?
A few years ago, I read an article about salmon migrating up a river in Alaska.  There was a fork up the river that evenly separated into two creeks.  According to fish counts, half the salmon went one way and the other half took the other course.  A quarter mile up one of the creeks, a hearty researcher placed his hand and forearm into the cold water for an extended period.  During that time, ninety percent of the salmon decided to go up the other creek to spawn.
Fish do have a very good sense of smell.  Knowing how to leave as little human scent on your bait as you can will insure that you will get more bites.
I noticed this as a mate working on a party boat.  I could bait a hook for myself or a customer and, odds were, the fish would hit that bait before other customers’ or even the captains’ bait was struck.  At the time, I attributed it to good bait cutting and proper hook placement.  However, when I became the captain, the new mate started catching more fish than I.  Then, I thought the smell of diesel and lube oil (the captain checks the engines) was being transmitted to the bait.
Now, I check my engine’s oil and fuel supply on the trailer and clean up with soap and water to avoid the aromatic petroleum fuel and lube smell.   Removing that natural human scent is far more difficult.  The best fishermen learn to cover it up.
For years, I have fished with Capt. Stan down in Ridge.  He is a chumming fanatic.  When fishing with six people on a chumming expedition, he would often also work as mate to keep our costs down.  He also had a standing dollar bet each with his customers on the first fish.  Capt. Stan never lost a dollar.
One morning, on our way out to the Bay, I put my dollar down and told Capt. Stan that I was going to take his money.  Capt. Stan said no one had beaten him.
Prior to fishing, while Capt. Stan was setting up on the anchor, I reached into the chum bucket and “washed” my hands in that smelly glop.  Then, I baited my hook with a bullet of flesh cut from an alewife back and flipped the bait into the water as Capt. Stan started flipping chum.  He had yet not gotten his line in and I had a fish on.  On the way home, after losing his first dollar, he related a story that finally made sense to him:
On one of his charters, Capt. Stan had a single experienced fisherman and five beginners.  He baited the hooks of all the beginners, but the knowledgeable fisherman insisted on doing that for himself.  All five beginners caught plenty of fish, but the lone rod of experience could not buy a bite, much to the fisherman’s personal frustration.  Looking back, Capt. Stan could see that his own scent was covered up by the large amount of bait he had cut and the chum he ground prior to fishing.  Literally, the seasoned fisherman’s bait stunk of people worse than the baits of the five novices who benefitted from the bait placed by Capt. Stan’s fishy smelling hands..
Time after time, I have used this knowledge to catch more fish and make my buddies look like amateurs.  Always, I volunteer to cut bait for everyone and handle chum.  So, when I bait up, I am also carrying the advantage of leaving less scent on the bait.  When the other guys get fewer bites, they know they are fishing with a pro.  When the  first time fishing ladies on board whose hooks I bait catch lots of fish, my downtrodden buddies invoke beginner’s luck as their excuse.
But, you and I know the real reason.