Angler Education

Satisfying a Bass' Taste Buds

Despite their ability to taste and smell many of the same chemicals we do, bass and human beings do not necessarily savor the same things.

The bass' sensory system in general tends to act like a two-step informational filter. For taste and smell, the first filter includes the chemoreceptor cells that respond to water-soluble molecules.

The second filter is within the brain. Of all the substances that a bass can smell and taste, only a small portion is interpreted by the brain as attractive. For the other smells and tastes the bass either doesn't care or is repulsed.

For example, we can readily smell rotten meat, but we certainly aren't attracted to it. Likewise, many of the things that bass smell and taste can be downright offensive.

The substances that bass find attractive are the essences of the things they normally eat. Bass are predators. They eat meat, mostly prey fish, crayfish, and other aquatic prey, although as opportunistic feeders they will take just about any small animal that comes their way. As such, they savor a wide variety of meaty flavors to varying degrees, especially those high in protein. Cooked fishmeal, for example, is frequently the major flavoring agent used in hatchery feed.

Flavors derived from plants are invariably poor performers. Bass are meat eaters, not vegetarians. No matter how appealing sweet flavors like strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, almond-fudge or chocolate-frosted sugar bombs may sound to us, to bass they mean nothing. That also goes for anise (licorice) oil, the odorous essence found in many popular versions of early fish attractants.

About the same can be said for that old reliable flavoring commonly known as table salt. Bass are not the salt lovers we are. While sensitive to sodium chloride, bass find it mildly appealing at best.

Flavor tests in the laboratory consistently show that bass quickly lose interest in objects flavored with sodium chloride alone. When added to an organic mixture, such as worm extract, table salt may
slightly improve the overall flavor, but it is no more than a minor enhancement.

Salt is important in other ways to the bass diet. Because bass constantly lose body salts to their freshwater environment, they need a steady intake of salts. Prey species such as minnows and crayfish also contain body salts, which when consumed, help replenish its lost stores of body salt. Studies show that whereas no single salt is overtly tasty, bass deem salt mixtures that replicate a prey species to be quite palatable. Bass can readily differentiate a set of complex mixtures and plain table salt.