Underwater Scents That Attract & Repel Game Fish (Research Results)


Have you ever fished a spot for a few minutes without catching anything, then, all of a sudden, the bite just suddenly turned on?

Or have you ever wondered why someone on the boat seems to have the hot hand, while others aren’t catching anything?

It could be random, or luck, or…

It could be because of underwater smell tracks.

What’s a smell track, you ask?

Scientist and author Paul Johnson spent countless hours underwater studying which scents played a role in attracting (and repelling) fish.

He called these scents “Smell Tracks” and has separated them into three different categories:

  • Negative (repel fish)
  • Neutral (have no affect on fish)
  • Positive (attract fish)

See, a fish’s sense of smell is thousands of times greater than that of a human and even the tiniest bit of scent can attract or repel fish.

So in the first scenario above, it might not have been that a school of fish just decided to turn up, but that it just took a while for a negative smell track to get washed off your lure.

And in the second scenario, it might be because one of the anglers has positive smell tracks on his line or lure, and the others have negative smell tracks.

In this episode, we’re talking all about smell tracks and how they can help, or hurt, your fish-catching abilities.

We’ll also identify what items fall under negative, neutral, and positive smell tracks.

There are some shocking (yet very common) things on all three of lists, so this episode is a must-listen.

You can watch the video version of this podcast below, or you can listen to the audio version by clicking the play button underneath it, or listen to it on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify.

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Underwater Fish Scents [VIDEO]

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Underwater Fish Scents [PODCAST]

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Underwater Smell Tracks 

Below is the list of negative, neutral, and positive smell tracks from the book, The Scientific Angler, by Paul Johnson.


  • L-serine (human skin oil)
  • Nicotine
  • Petroleum and derivatives, including gas and motor oil
  • Suntan lotions
  • Bug repellents
  • Chemical plasticizers added to soften plastics
  • Perfumed soaps


  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Anise oil
  • Natural vegetation (grass, leaves)
  • Human urine
  • Chlorinated water and treated septic water
  • Soda pop and fruit juices
  • Nonperfumed soap and biodegradable detergents


  • Fish extracts, including herring oil
  • Baitfish guts
  • Fish slime*
  • Natural bait (including juices from worms, frogs, crawdads, leeches, and maggots)
  • Milk and some dairy products such as cheese
  • Human saliva

*Fish slime can also become a negative deterrent if the slime originates from a species offensive to the target fish. E.g. the slime of a northern pike is a deterrent to many species.


joe and luke simonds redfish

Isn’t it crazy how the smallest things, like where you store your fishing line, or how much you touch your leader can affect how many fish you catch?

I know that we get really excited about the positive smell tracks, and they can definitely help you catch more fish, but even if you just avoid the negative smell tracks, you could totally transform your fishing game.

Have any questions about smell tracks?

Let us know in the comments below!

And if you know someone who’s committing these negative smell tracks, please TAG or SHARE this with them!

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Bob Fritz
2 months ago

Garlic for some reason fish love the smell of garlic or the taste. Don’t know which, but it attracts fish.

William Vandervort
6 months ago

Can u use Berkeley attract scent bass for saltwater species or id procure shrimp scent best or doesn’t matter

Ralph Pratt
1 year ago

How about mixing the Dr. Juice and Berkeley scent liquid together?

Todd Card
2 years ago

I have a question. Will saltwater fish strike on vinegar-based scents? I live on the central Oregon coast. Two-minute leisurely walk between a beach and bay. I brew my own Kombucha which yields a rubbery and VERY tough byproduct called a scoby. I have TONS of scoby I can cut to look like squid bait. I salt cure my squid bait now and use it. But, I don’t want to cross-contaminate any of my current prep equipment with something that has a slight vinegar scent that will repel fish.

I have been thinking of salt curing (with garlic) scoby to mimic my squid bait…

I have looked EVERYWHERE online for answers about this. No luck. You are my go-to guys for everything… Any ideas?

Charles Garrett
2 years ago

Luke and Joe, my wife and I have been using a bar soap that is all natural and one type has no fragrance at all. The bar soap (also in liquid) is Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile soap. This soap is just soap without all the chemicals that other soaps have. My wife has a reaction to the chemicals in most soap, but this one she has no problems with. I have a bar of this soap on my boat, just in case I get something that would repel fish. I need all the help I can get. Tight lines, put it in the boat.
Bill Garrett

Anthony Guidetti
2 years ago

Yes great tip, I have sensitivities to chemicals and perfumes in soap and use pure Castile soap, and free and clear laundry soaps….👍

Jack Bosch
2 years ago

Welcome to the Paul Johnson “fan club”. I have fished salt water in the northeast since 1960 and picked up my copy of his book when it first came out. I still keep it at bedside for constant review. He was years ahead of his time in bringing science to understand fish behavior, then using it to increase your catch. My copy came from Paul because I could not buy locally. I reached out to him at Berkley and he included a personal note as well. My first scent work included use of locally obtained fish oil and soft plastic lures fished in the cape cod canal and it was an instant success. His book inspired me to other techniques and methods that continually raise eyebrows nearby, including spitting on the lure before a cast, LOL !

2 years ago

I’ve always kept my gear in house and in a room shut off from the rest of the house. I’d love to see a study of scent killer put on hands, lure, leader, and knots verses say regular human scent. Can a scent killer spray used for hunting kill/neutralize human scent during fishing.

3 years ago

“Me not know that”. Great video. I’m learning so much from you younger guys( me 74). Thank you and please keep up the great work.

Jamie Brinck
3 years ago

Joe, to your comment about a Salt Strong soap. I was thinking while watching how nice it would be to have a spray for lures, line, hands and such to neutralize negative scent.

Bryan Blain
3 years ago

OK, I get this but I have used WD40 for years ( because it is made with fish oil ) what are your thoughts on this ?

Ralph Pratt
1 year ago
Reply to  Bryan Blain

That is a myth. I heard it too. WRONG It’s petroleum based.


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