Sunday, July 22, 2007

On a cold day in 1996 a group of us boaters sat around the outflow waters of the Morgantown Power Plant in southern Charles County, casting artificial lures into the froth, hoping to draw a strike from the striped bass that they knew were there, feasting on baitfish. The shad, shiners and minnows were drawn to the plankton-rich, warmed waters at the power plant and the rockfish, gluttons that they are, stuffed themselves.

However, only one of the anglers latched onto a striper during the first part of the morning. The man stood quietly in the bow of a bass boat, casting a 3-inch-long green, plastic grub and pretty soon stuck the hook to a rockfish. We were agog. Occasionally, we’d see him dipping the soft lure into a small blue jar. He’d rub the lure around in it, pull it out, replace the cap, then resume casting — and soon catch another striper.

It was the first time that my partner and I had seen a fish-attractant product known as Smelly Jelly. The man who used it, the professional river guide Andy Andrzejewski, explained that his was a creamy substance that smelled like herring.

The striped bass apparently thought it was the real article. They love herring and the uninitiated should know that all fish have great olfactory senses. In other words, if the aroma of a herring courses through the water column, they’ll investigate it.

Andrzejewski generously allowed us to dip our Sassy Shad and bucktail lures into the jar and we, too, eventually tied into rockfish of our own.

It wasn’t long before we were in touch with the Catcher Company of Hillsboro, Ore., to see how we could order various flavors of Smelly Jelly. The firm produces creamy substances that reek of crawfish, herring, baitfish, anise, clam, crab and one consisting of garlic that is so powerful you could close your eyes and believe you were in an Italian kitchen.

The garlic, baitfish and crawfish flavors work especially well on largemouth bass in tidal rivers and freshwater lakes. Ditto for crappies and walleyes.

But my initiation into the Smelly Jelly product line wasn’t the first time I was introduced to fish-attracting flavors. No, there were times when I nearly gagged because some of the substances used by my fishing pals were enough to turn my stomach.

Atop the list of bass-beckoning concoctions of the 1970s was the lowly sardine. My friend Tom Shaw, who ran the Citation Guide Service on Lake Gaston, Va., was convinced that the oil and tiny remnants drained from a can of sardines was the stuff bass catches were made of.

“You see, I collect leftover sardine oil and pieces of the sardines and put them into this jelly jar,” Shaw would say. “Then I stuff in a dozen of my black or blue Fliptail worms and let them soak a while.”

He’d run out of Peahill Creek and onto the main lake, find a boat house or lake point, open the jar and ceremoniously attach it to a worm hook. If the wind blew in my direction, the odor was so powerful it made me want to fall from the boat’s rear chair and faint. It was that awful. But Shaw invariably would catch more bass than I would.

During many winter bass outings our little group of blue-nose fishing fans has tested the effectiveness of fish attractants on a bullhead minnow-like artificial known as Mann’s Sting Ray. It was Andrzejewski who popularized the Sting Ray on the Potomac and nowadays you even have a competing guide going around claiming he introduced the Sting Ray to the Potomac. Not so. The man is delusional.

However, those among us who coat the plastic grubs with garlic, crawfish or baitfish flavors definitely outfish friends whose grubs are plain and untouched by strong flavors.

And don’t forget the now-departed Tom Mann, the famous fellow who produced Mann’s Jellyworms. Mann was of the firm opinion that bass (and other fish) had a sweet tooth and also loved fruits.

He manufactured the wonderful Jellyworms, colored and flavored like watermelon, cherries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. I loved them — and so did the fish.

Finally, if you can stand the smell, rub a little anchovy paste onto your already fragrant cut bait that is intended to draw a catfish. The “cat” won’t be able to resist the power of the anchovy.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail:

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