During their Empire days, the British were infamous for
military clashes across the globe. Unfortunately for the
Brits, most of these were very costly in men and equipment.
Nevertheless, staunch in their 19th Century beliefs that proper
rules of engagement and honor must be part of gentlemanly
conflicts, the old guard thinking prevailed and troops often
suffered disastrous defeats. From the slaughter at the Battle
of New Orleans (2000 casualties) to the infamous Charge of
the Light Brigade in the Crimean War (40% casualties) the
best and bravest died. You'd think they'd learn, but no. Next
came Khartoom (11,000 military and civilian dead, albeit mostly
Sudanese troops) and the Boer War's Battle of Majumba
(70% casualties or captured) where the concept of honor
and valor prevailed, and produced staggering losses. Hindsight
shows that other strategies were usually available different
approaches that might have brought better results. But Brits are
steadfast, even unto death.
Meanwhile, a battle no less virulent was being waged on the
chalk streams of England. Led by flyfisher F.M. Halford, the
dry fly purists became adamant and unwavering in their belief
that fish a wet fly was a vile and loathsome practice even
though there were seasons when dry flies met with humiliating
defeat. On the other side of the conflict, author G.E.M.Skues
promoted nymphing and fished to great and consistent success
with soft hackles, wets and emergers, much to the chagrin of the
Today there are still Englishmen who are reactionary purist
dry fly fishermen, and who curse the hoards of nymphing
blasphemers. They condemn silver tongued angling devils
who seduce the minds of the unlearned fishing masses and
fill these innocents' heads with thoughts of glorious rewards
without suffering. The British purist knows that anguish and
distress guard the only honest path to piscatorial salvation.
For the true believer, misery and torment must precede
success. Wretchedness is the normal state of being.
Americans heard the purists' fire and brimstone warnings
sometimes you just need to do what works.
A cold day in January and an expert fisherman is puzzled
by a particular pond. He has the latest equipment and the finest
lures, has perfected the most complex fishing skills, yet has yet
to catch any fish. A young boy he regularly sees at the pond
catches fish continually. After more hours of no fish, the expert
is completely frustrated. Finally, he approaches the boy and
asks for the secret to catching fish in this pond. The boy spits
a brown mouthful into his hand and says "You've got to keep
the worms warm."
Bass and bluegill have a very acute sense of smell and can
detect a few parts per million of a scent many yards away.
They have nostril looking holes called nares, two on each
side of the mouth, that bring water into an inner chamber
lined with sensory pads (chemoreceptors). When a fish
moves water is forced over the pads and when quiet they
can force water over the pads with muscle movement. The
chemoreceptors pick up chemical signals and transmits them
to the frontal lobes of the brain, which interprets the signal
and the fish responds. Bass and bluegill can smell their "home"
portion of a lake much as ocean species can smell the unique
trace of their home reef and salmon can smell their home river.
They know what nature smells like. For fly fishermen, a serious
problem has been created by the universe of modern flies
where many have no parts that nature created. What replaced
nature is nylon based threads, chemically processed fiber dubbing
and chenille, plastic and metal tinsel and hair, rubber and silicone l
egs, foam, wire, glues and varnishes. None of these smell like
fish food and many contain smells that repel bass and bluegill.
Gasoline is reputed to be the most repulsive, followed closely
by solvents like those found in glue and head cement.
Of course there is the amino acid L-Serine, found in
humans and immediately identifiable as a bad thing by bluegill
and bass. Human skin emits L-Serine odor and can (inevitably
will) transfer this to a modern fly. The result is, when bad things
combine, the fly might actually repel fish. Fortunately, there are
items available to fly fishermen that counteract negative influences.
These go by the odious name of "attractants" and no purist fly
fisherman will use them for fear of eternal fishing damnation.
Reverend Johnston, a temperance leader and an angling
purist, was fishing a royal coachman when he encountered
a man who had suffered a heart attack and lay dying on the
bank of the stream. His line still in the water, the man had
hooked a 22" trout which was lolling in the water, still hooked
to a bead head prince. Peeking out of pockets in t he dying
man's vest were two cigars, a pint of bourbon, a fly box filled
with nymphs and a spray bottle of fish attractant. In a loud
voice the Reverend demanded: "These are tools of Satan.
Denounce these devilish things! Let him know what you
think of his evil!"
The dying man said nothing.
The minister repeated his order.
Still the dying man said nothing.
Johnston then asked, "Why do you refuse to denounce the
devil and his evil tools?"
The dying man answered, "Actually, until I know where I'm
heading, I don't think I ought to aggravate anybody."
Whether the title "attractants" is an accurate description,
and if these add-ons actually send out positive odors to
fish (enzymes, hormones and pheromones) is still in the
maybe category. But, consider this: how do purists
combat repulsive odors? What do you do when fish
can identify predators by scent and will easily notice the
presence of unnatural chemicals from humans such as
L-serine, sun tan lotions, insect repellents, tobacco, soap,
oils, fuels, and glues and varnishes used to make fishing
you know, sometimes sinners
have all the fun.
Harry, a fishing purist, and Chuck, a nymphing blasphemer,
were neighbors and argued constantly over Chuck's blasphemous
fishing methods. Chuck, it seems, had developed a highly
successful fish attractant known as Catch-Mo-Fish.
There is no argument that fish attractants can neutralize
unwanted negative scents. What works best for bass and
bluegill seems to be anise, garlic, grape, worm, shad and
crawfish scents. Most of these are designed to aid in
catching bass and larger predator fish. Although only
BaitMate advertises a panfish product, attractants can
be made at home with mineral oil and added scents from
the spice aisle, and eliminating human scents will help in
panfish catches as well. Field tests with double dropper
rigs of identical flies have shown that an attractant treated
fly outfishes the untreated fly by a factor of 4 to 1. Amazingly,
because the world if full of surprises, WD40 is a great attractant
and now comes in a felt tip dispenser.
One morning Harry was walking along a steep cliff on his
way to an isolated high mountain stream, when he
accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way
down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his
fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon
fell straight for more than a thousand feet. Knowing he
couldn't hang onto the branch forever, and that there was
no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff, he
began yelling for help, hoping for a miracle, that someone
might be passing by and would hear him. He yelled for a
long time, and was about to give up when he heard a voice
echoing off the hillsides singing the Catch-Mo-Fish attractant
jingle. (From a popular ad using the tune to 'Macho Man'.)
"Help!" Harry yelled.
I'm gonna go and Catch-Mo-Fish
I wanta go and Catch-Mo-Fish."
The singing stopped. "Hello?" came the reply.
"Can you hear me?"
"Help! I'm down here!"
Chuck's head appeared over the edge of the cliff
wearing a cap with a Catch-Mo-Fish logo. "I see
that. Hi, Harry."
"Oh, Chuck. Thank goodness. Can you help me?
"Sure. I probably have a rope. Hang on for another
There was a long pause and the sound of activity on
the top of the cliff. Harry felt his grip slipping. "Please hurry."
"Chuck, help me! I'll promise you anything if you'll save me
," the end of a rope appeared. How about
you promise to try my Catch-Mo-Fish?"
"HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?"
Meanwhile, like the hard-headed Brits, the purist scoffs
and turns a deaf ear, while purist wives spread false rumors
to confuse the masses.
Wive's Tale #1: When you catch a fish, the smell
of the fish you caught on the fly will mask other scents. Actually,
the substance schreckstoffen is released from a fish's skin
when flesh is broken and this frequently elicits a fear and flight
reaction in similar fish. After catching a fish you fly is possibly
less attractive to other fish. At least one attractant, YUM, uses
a similar scared shad smell to lure aggressive predators and is
not appropriate for attracting panfish.
Wive's Tale #2: Man-made fly tying materials don't smell.
Actually, many of these materials are petroleum based and petroleum
products are among the most repulsive to fish. Even natural materials
which are packaged or stored in plastic bags can pick up odors from
Wive's Tale #3: Washing your hands gets rid of repulsive
odors. Only half true, washing with some floral scented soaps can
make things worse. Washing with natural scented or unscented
soap (Ivory is good) will wash repulsive odors from human hands.
Wive's Tale #4: Using fish attractant is illegal. Simply false,
even on the most restrictive gold medal fly fish only catch-and-release
waters, no prohibition against attractant on flies has been found.
Publisher's note: It is always wise to check your local
regulations. Better safe than sorry.
Wive's Tale #5: Using fish attractant ruins the action of the fly.
Only half true. Using an oily attractant on a dry fly hackle can ruin the
action and sink the fly. Don't do that. Attractant on a wet fly or nymph
will have no negative effects. Some attractants come in colors and should
be avoided as they will discolor anything (flies, clothes, fingers)
especially the red colored attractants.
Wive's Tale #6: Fish attractants can hurt the finish on rods
and deteriorate fly line. Heavy application may cause oil spots on a
cork handle and cause some discoloration, but no other adverse
effects should occur.
Wive's Tale #7: You have to coat the entire fly with attractant.
Actually, selective application on a fly will suffice to release attractants
while masking most other smells. Use a spray bottle or place drops
(with a needle or bodkin) on the body of a fly.
Wive's Tale #8: Attractants can get rancid on your fly.
Only half true. Some attractants with natural products (fish and
vegetable oils) will eventually get rancid, but most attractants wash
off with fishing and a brief rinsing before returning a fly to a fly box
should resolve this issue. One product, KICK'N BASS is particularly
difficult to remove from baits, which is not so good in your fly box
but is normally considered a plus in other fishing applications.
Wive's Tale #9: Fish attractants are poison to humans.
No, but probably won't do you any good. Some fish attractants
contain "not for human consumption" warnings, but not poison
Wive's Tale #10: Other fly fishermen will hate you for
using attractant. Only half true, the other half will hate you for
catching more fish than they do.
GENERIC FISH ATTRACTANT RECIPE
4 oz. plain mineral oil (do not use scented oils or
vegetable or olive oil)
Combine the ingredients. Put in a squeeze bottle and place
a drop on each wet fly used. ~ Bob
1 tsp anise oil or extract
1tsp garlic oil or extract
Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an
environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided
environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including
active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a
well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has
developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs
encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has
litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state
court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental
law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or
articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District
of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator.
In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school
teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health,
has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball
coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president
of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of
Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the
father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information
contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518
or call 337.856.7890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.