What does the fish smell like? | Kern Valley Sun

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Notice the “nostril opening” just in front of the eye. | Jeffrey Walters/Kern Valley Sun

What does the fish smell like? That’s a very good question, and I don’t mean it in a bad way like a bad smell of fish. I mean, after all, they don’t have a nose on their face, so how do they smell?

Fish have “nostrils” with which they smell and “gills” with which they breathe. Water passes through the inlet nostrils where chemical interactions pick up scents which alert the fish to what is near and what that scent signifies such as food, fear or pleasure. Then the water comes out through the exit nostrils completing the cycle. Different species can have different sets of nostrils on their face, at the back of their mouth, and on some species like spoonbill and sawtooth freshwater fish, their nostrils can be on their gills.

Here in the Kern River Valley we have many different species of freshwater fish, and each species has a different set of nostrils. The murkier the water, the more fish rely on their ability to smell, and with clear water, they rely more on their eyesight. But how do they smell? They simply bring water through a pair of nostrils and “smell” the chemicals in the water. This alerts the fish to what is nearby in the water. Carp are famous for their ability to use ‘pheromones’ which they excrete into the water to alert other carp to stay away or come looking for them. However, this pheromone also serves a dual purpose by alerting other fish to stay away as it really stinks. So remember, when fishing for carp, don’t scare them.

This should explain why some trout baits smell the way they do. You have some with garlic, salt, cheese and oils that have been used for decades. How about the stinky catfish bait you see for sale? Open the lid of one of them and you can clear a room quickly! Some people make their own smelly fish bait with old-fashioned homemade recipes. Almost all carp anglers make their own bait using corn flakes, maze, maple syrup, peanut butter and other household ingredients.

The catfish has huge nostrils with its whiskers, which it uses to “feel” its way through murky water. These whiskers also pick up different forms of stimulation, such as water temperature and even distress signals that their prey may emit. However, it is the smell that causes them to feed on your bait. Crayfish are not fish at all, but they “smell water” to detect food or fear. Their sense of smell and their long whiskers guide them through the water. Bass anglers use “salt-soaked plastic worms” for a very effective lure for largemouth and smallmouth bass. The salt can be smelled by the fish and helps the lure sink faster and act differently in the water.

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