I would like to point out from the beginning that I am not an angler, I have never held a rod and my knowledge of fish species is so limited that I am I am merely at the level of knowing that sharks have teeth and tuna steaks are tasty. You may well ask why I am writing about fishing and the answer is that my interest has been piqued by an argument over bait.
I may have little interest in the art but I know a man who does and so I have heard the debate over the relative merits of different baits. The question of whether natural or artificial bait would be best seemed to me to be rather obvious. Would I prefer to eat a tuna steak or a piece of plastic? However, the rain forests of Brazil have been severely diminished by the amount of print devoted to this subject and so I decided to do a little research into the matter. Either I was going to end up feeling like an idiot or millions of fishermen have been getting writer’s cramp for no good reason.
As soon as I started reading I had an epiphany. I realised that I was actually in possession of some valuable insight into the subject of luring fish. You only have to scratch the surface of the issue of bait to realise that the crucial question is what makes a fish think that something is edible? The answer, it would appear, is appearance, movement and scent which brings me to my moment of enlightenment. A couple of years ago I was enjoying a holiday in Italy (apart from being stung by a jelly fish). There was plenty of aquatic life in the Mediterranean and I wondered if I could attract some of the fish closer to me. The only thing I had to hand was my lunch and so I sprinkled some on the water and it sparked a feeding frenzy. I had made the crucial discovery that fish like cheesy puffs!
I didn’t give the incident much thought at the time but now I see that it was a revelation. Cheese is not a naturally occurring substance in the ocean and as such is not usually on the menu of any fish species and yet they were attacking each other to get to my puffs. There was something about the scent of those things that sent the fish wild. So perhaps the question of natural bait and artificial bait is more complicated than I first thought.
Sadly for me my discovery came a little late as it turns out that fisherman have been using all sorts of seemingly bizarre scents on their bait for years. The weird and wonderful odours which attract fish include garlic, anise and vanilla. Knowing this the scientists have got in on the act and there have been decades of research into what niffs work best and which cocktail will produce the most spectacular results.
There are now a range of scents on the market which can be applied to bait and even bait which is already impregnated with the scent. The scent appears to act in two ways as it both attracts the fish and also masks the smells they do not like including the scent of humans (I am with the fish on that one!) Some of the aromas include up to 400 ingredients and the formulas are closely guarded secrets.
Scented bait certainly seems to work as a tactic but is not without controversy. The cocktails can contain chemicals which may prove to be hazardous to the environment. Many artificial lures are plastic and contain resins, stabilisers and softening agents known as phthalates which are definitely not eco-friendly. There is growing evidence that many of these soft plastic baits are lost or discarded and end up on the beds of lakes and rivers and can then be ingested by aquatic life which can subsequently suffer from blocked digestive tracts and die. There is now scented bait available which is composed entirely of natural products and which is water soluble. Manufacturers are designing lures which are more robust and thus less likely to end up being lost and therefore hazardous to wildlife.
Artificial bait has practical advantages in that it can be stored for long periods of time whereas live bait clearly can’t. Other natural bait will not keep long either and both anecdotal evidence and research suggests that scented bait is highly effective at attracting the fish and inducing them to bite for longer. The debate is far more complicated than I thought.
I guess that anglers must discover what works best for them but I think they should be mindful of the environmental issues. The quest for the best catch should not come at the expense of other wildlife. If any anglers are struggling to find the magic formula I can heartily recommend cheesy puffs as a cheap and biodegradable option!
Sally Stacey is a keen writer and business owner who divides her time between writing and running her shop. She still hasn’t taken up fishing.