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What Do Carp Actually Smell?

“Oh no”, some of you are thinking, “what nonsense is James trying to debunk today?” I’ll admit, this is going to be a hard one for people to get their heads round because flavours, offering both taste and smell as far as we humans are concerned, have been part of bait making for over 40 years. There isn’t a carp angler alive that hasn’t stuck their nose in a bag of boilies and thought, “they’re going to love that.”

The initial theory on the use of flavours was to make your bait stand out from another - often referred to as a ‘giving your bait a label’. That is a perfectly reasonable theory if you have the ability to discern between flavours, tastes and smells like humans can - but there is no evidence that carp are able to do this. Carp get caught all all manner of flavoured baits afterall. If you think about them outside a fishing environment, why would a carp ever need to differentiate between the taste and smell of something? All it needs to know is if it is food or not. Let’s remember that a carp has a tiny brain compared to human. Your knowledge of smells and tastes takes up brain capacity the carp simply doesn’t have. Carp fishing is littered with these misconceptions because people have wrongly attributed human abilities to carp.

The human nose is designed to detect vapours mixed in air whereas the carp has a different nose like structure called nares, that detect dissolved compounds in water. The two are very different mechanisms and they detect very different things. All objects are either solid, liquid or gaseous. What you smell is effectively a gas. What the carp ‘smell’ is a liquid. There is no relationship between what you smell and what a carp ‘smells’. They are not attracted to flavours. They may well be attracted to an ingredient in a flavour or a pH change the flavour may initiate. A bottle of pineapple flavour is not 100% liquidised pineapple. It may not contain any pineapple whatsoever and could be completely synthetic in its make up. However, if there’s an amino acid, a salt or a trace food element in its make up, this could be detected by the carp. So, it’s not pineapple it’s attracted to. It also means not all pineapple flavours contain the same ingredients - one may have an attractive element and another one doesn’t. Older flavours may well have been made with more natural extracts, whereas today it is probably cheaper to make a purely synthetic flavour. IMO, the more natural you can make a bait, the more likely the carp is to accept it as a safe food source.

Much of the above can also be attributed to taste. I know one bait maker who ate bloodworm, caddis, worms etc all in the name of researching tastes. These items are often very bitter. Carp pick up all sorts of taste types sweet, sour, salty, fruity..... so you could argue it doesn’t matter what it tastes like to a carp. Again, it maybe that the only message a carp receives from bait and naturals is ‘food’. Whether it can discern a better food source from another has been debated for decades. On paper a decent boilie should always be picked up over a natural food, but we all know they can happily appear to leave bait alone - some fish probably never eat bait. It’s not unreasonable to think that anything natural has some sort of advantage over something synthetic. If money was no object and the lake had no nuisance fish, I would fish maggots and worms all the time. Take tiger nuts. They offer almost nothing to the carp and yet they will eat them over and over again. Boilies can be left alone indefinitely.

IMO, the more you try to think about what a carp can and cant do naturally, the better your approach to fishing for them could be. Don’t give them human abilities they simply can’t possess. Carp fishing is very easy. Just find them, present a working rig with something they want to eat near them and wait for your opportunity to come.

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