O'Brien Outdoors: WD-40 a fish attractant

May 14, 2010

WILLIAMSPORT -- Many fish species use the olfactory sense to detect food sources. Catfish for example are reputed to be able to smell some compounds at one part to 10 billion parts of water. This scent stimulus becomes even more important when a fish’s vision is impeded, such as in off-color water or in darkness.

For years manufacturers have been making sprays, gels and lotions that contain special ingredients to stimulate aggressive feeding behavior. These are specially formulated for individual species such as trout, salmon, steelhead, crappie, catfish, carp, bass, walleye, etc. You can even purchase plastic baits impregnated with fish-attracting scents such as garlic, crayfish and night crawler, among others. Some anglers favor the flavors, others scoff at the very notion of using scent on their lures or bait, while others are just plain skeptics.

The first time I heard of anyone using WD-40 as a fish attractant was back in the 1970s. An acquaintance was fishing for salmon off the West Coast. The mate on the charter boat kept spraying a substance on the lures. It was working; they were catching lots of fish. In order to conceal the identity of the spray, the can was covered with a brown paper bag, held tight by a rubberband. During the confusion of landing a fish, and with curiosity piqued, the angler slid the paper bag down revealing a can of WD-40.

WD–40 began as a search for a rust preventative solvent and degreaser to protect missile parts. Three technicians at the San Diego Rocket Chemical Company created WD-40 back in 1953. The name comes from the project that was to find a “water displacement” (WD) compound. They were successful with their fortieth (40) formulation.

Twenty years after first hearing about using WD-40 for fishing, I put it to the test. Yes, I admit using the product to catch a fish. Or should I say, for my 7-year-old son to catch a few fish. Rory was intent on catching yellow perch to use for pike fishing. With a small jig lowered in three feet of clear water he was drawing lots of attention, but no strikes. Frustration was building. Jokingly, I told him I could make the fish bite. I took out a can of WD-40 (I’ll explain later why I carry it) and gave the jig a quick spray, more out of entertainment than expected results. Rory dropped the jig into the water, which was immediately attacked by a perch drawn to the potent scent trail. In the next five minutes he caught sufficient bait to go pike fishing. Mission accomplished.

I carry a can of WD-40 (and the No-Mess Pens, which offer precision-application) in my truck and in each of my boats. Its uses are limitless. No I don’t use it as a fish attractant, but it does mask scent. There are certain noxious odors that repel fish. Chemical substances- gasoline, grease, motor oil, battery acid, insect repellent, deodorant, hair spray, cologne and perfume, sunblock, and others- get inadvertently transferred to lures, baits and flies. Any of these odors can cause adverse behavior in fish. Anytime your hands come in contact with a questionable substance a coating of WD-40 works wonders. You won’t believe how it eliminates the smell of gasoline. I use it following any contact with the gas can or fuel tank (changing or refilling), or engine.

Of all the fish-repelling scents, human odor might be the most offensive. The amino acid L-serine, which is present in human skin, is the culprit. Some people have a greater quantity than others, and that might explain, to a small degree, why some anglers catch more fish. Just handling lures or bait can transfer the amino acid, possibly affecting their fish-catching qualities.

But the uses for WD-40 go beyond concealing scent. It works for freeing jammed, salt-encrusted zippers, but is best applied prior to exposing the internal-locking devices to salt. A light coating on reels, pliers, scissors, hook-sharpening files, and the like will protect tools, keeping them lubricated and rust-free. It is a top-notch lubricant for trailer winches and trailer-tongue jacks, as well as for protecting wiring plugs.

WD-40 can be used to keep a trolling motor shaft clean and functioning smoothly. It also works well to clean and restore leather and vinyl boat seats and interiors like flooring and dashboards. It is a superb cleaner for bug-encrusted hoods, grills and bumpers of vehicles.

Even if you don’t believe WD-40 as a viable fish attractant or a masking scent, it is a useful item for fishermen to keep handy. Ken East, one of the original founders, says there is nothing in WD-40 that would hurt you. After all, its main ingredient is fish oil. 

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