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OUTDOORS COLUMN: Fish scent 'tech'; is nothing new

Bob Kornegay

Bob Kornegay

You know, even after all this time I can’t help chuckling whenever I see or hear advertisements for products purported to make our outdoor endeavors more successful.

There must be at least a million items “guaranteed” to help us catch more fish, shoot more game, spot more songbirds, repel more mosquitoes, even answer the call of nature in the woods more comfortably. In short, outdoor adventure is now terminally inundated with “comfort” and “efficiency.”

Now, I don’t have any major complaints about this. In fact, there are certain modern conveniences without which I refuse to go afield. A labor-saving or comfort device or two in no way detracts from basic outdoor skills and only serves to make the outdoors more enjoyable.

For instance, a roll of biodegradable toilet tissue in my backpack makes it unnecessary for me to have to reliably identify poison ivy or stinging nettle leaves, if you get my drift. Besides, several manufacturers of such products are friends whose livelihoods depend upon this or that outdoor aid and its popularity.

Still, it amuses me when the market is flooded with some “new, earth-shattering” innovation. More times than not, it is far from earth shattering and by no means new, as the real innovator thought it up decades or even centuries before.

Specifically, fish attractants come to mind. You know, those bottled concoctions we squirt onto our bait to make it more appealing to whatever fish species we are attempting to fool. I actually bought my first bottle of fish attractant fewer than 20 years ago. It was long before that when I saw an attractant in use for the first time.

Back in the 1950s I often watched my Uncle Hubert fish. He absolutely loved snatching three-finger bream from southeast Alabama creeks. It was often said he kept fish so small his bait can be doubled as a livewell.

Small or not, Uncle Hubert caught a lot of fish, largely due to his use of a particular fish attractant. The man never dunked his wiggler without first coating it with a generous gob of juice from a well-masticated plug of chewing tobacco. I’ve never seen an in-store version of tobacco-juice fish scent, but it seems to me some entrepreneur is missing the boat. I shall not reveal the brand name of Uncle Hubert’s favorite chew. We legends of outdoor journalism never hand out endorsements without compensation.

When I was a bit older, I regularly fished a small stream with Willie, a kindhearted old farm hand who never complained about the aggravating little white boy who was often underfoot. Willie, like Uncle Hubert, was also a fish-attractant innovator. His ploy for catching everything from redbellies to pickerel was garlic. He dug it from a clump of plants at the corner of his back porch.

Old Willie carefully crushed the garlic cloves and stirred them into his can of hand-dug redworms. Sure enough, he always caught fish and always in large numbers. I once asked him why.

“Fishes likes baits what stank,” he said.

Inarticulate, perhaps, but wasn’t he saying the same thing the sellers of today’s fish scents are telling us in more fancy language? By the way, it was also very noticeable that Willie was not unduly bothered by mosquitoes or other insect pests. In fact, the old man smelled so strongly of garlic he often had trouble getting his coon dogs from beneath his back porch.

And then there’s my buddy Cletus Monroe. Even in this modern age he refuses to use store-bought fish attractants. Clete simply foregoes washing his feet for several days before a fishing trip. On the water, he dangles his tootsies over the side of the boat and allows a week’s worth of toe-crevice accumulation to slowly disperse beneath the surface.

Of course, this method has some limitations and draws frowns from the environmentally conscious. It doesn’t make the folks at PETA too happy, either. The only fishes Clete attracts are bowfins and mudcats. All other species within a quarter-mile radius die slow and painful deaths. EPA scientists have deemed these unfortunate “Cletus-casualties” unfit for human consumption.

Me? Well, I can take or leave fish attractants, but if I must employ one I’ll opt for tobacco juice, a la Uncle Hubert. After all, if you gotta spit anyhow, you might as well do it on your worm, right?