Why is it on any given body of water, at any
given time, there are always a few fishermen
who catch more fish than anyone else? Now I'm
not talking about a few locals who are on the
water daily, and have figured out some small
nuances that separate the successful fishermen
from the unsuccessful.
Neither am I talking about the electronic freaks
who have their boats or float tubes completely
covered with electronic gadgetry designed to take
the skill out of reading water (yes, I do have a
Buddy Two). I'm talking about those one-on-one
situations where everyone on the water is comparably
skilled and equally outfitted.
For example: A local fly fishing club has an outing
on an area trout lake. Everyone is fishing the same
general area. They are using the same sink-rate lines,
the same test leader, tippets, and the same fly patterns
(the successful angler has given just about everyone
in camp his hot fly). But the most successful angler
just keeps on catching fish, while other fishermen
report only spotty results.
While the unlucky anglers may refer to this phenomenon
as just plain "lucky," there is usually more to it than
simple good fortune. Strange as it may seem, skill may
also have had very little to do with it.
What one factor could have separated the have's from
A chemical called L-serine. The smell on your hands. I remember as a youth outfishing my father and his angling
cronies on almost every trip we made. It got so bad it was
embarrassing to my father's friends. Initially, Dad thought
it was great. But when his fishing buddies quit inviting
us on their fishing trips, my father suddenly found ways
to avoid taking me along. At first I feared it had
something to do with body odor...or bad breath. I now
believe it had more to do with the odor on my hands
(or lack thereof) than anything else.
Dad and I tried an experiment some years later at
a popular western Idaho trout lake. I baited Dad's
hook, he baited mine. He caught fish, I didn't. When
we later baited our own hooks, things returned to
normal. I caught more fish than he did.
Technically, L-serine falls into the category of
compounds known as amino acids. The fact that
amino acids have a high solubility in water
reinforces the problem, because fish thus have
the opportunity to detect this chemical.
While scientific studies have not confirmed my
"positive" L-serine theory, I strongly believe it
does exist. In his book, The Scientific Angler,
author Paul C. Johnson writes, "Every time a fisherman
casts and retrieves his line and lure, he leaves an
invisible smell track. All humans have some level
of L-serine in their skin oil; everything a fisherman
touches contains a chemical remnant of L-serine plus
anything else he may have had on his hands.
"What else?" Johnson writes. "Plenty: gasoline and
motor oil, suntan oil and sunscreen, bug repellent,
and nicotine, for smokers (my father was a heavy
smoker), are all potential negative smell track
Johnson goes on to describe the most common negative,
neutral, and positive smell tracks. Every angler
would do well to memorize this list.
An old time walleye guide described an experience he
had observed on a top lake in Canada: Neither member
of a husband and wife team had even had a bite during
a morning of fishing. They went in for a shore lunch.
Almost immediately when they went back out on the water
after eating, the wife started catching walleyes.
NEGATIVE SMELL TRACKS: L-serine (human skin oil),
nicotine, petroleum and derivitives (gasoline and motor
oil), suntan lotions, bug repellents, chemical
plasticizers added to soften plastics, and perfumed
NEUTRAL SMELL TRACKS: Alcoholic beverages,
anise oil, natural vegitation (grass, leaves), human
urine, chlorinated water and treated septic water,
soda pop and fruit juices, nonperfumed soap and
POSITIVE SMELL TRACKS: Fish extracts - including
herring oil, baitfish guts, fish slime (can also be
a negative if the slime originates from a species
offensive to the game fish being sought; e.g., the
slime of a northern pike is negative to many species),
natural bait (including juices from worms, frogs,
crawdads, leeches and maggots), milk and some dairy
products such as cheese, and human saliva.
The husband, using an identical line, lure, and technique,
never got a strike. They began discussing why. It was
finally determined that the only thing they had done
differently, was she had smeared Oil of Olay on her
face to prevent windburn. He tried it...and began
What's in the stuff? Among other things, natural turtle oil.
For several years I've been routinely washing my hands
several times a day when I'm fishing; with a good neutral
(non-perfumed) biodegradable soap. Even if I "might"
have a positive L-serine on my hands, I'm still not
about to take any chances. ~ Marv
Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West,
The Successful Angler's Journal,
More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More
Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from
Marv. You can reach Marv by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 208-322-5760.