Do Trout Like Garlic? Olfactory Evidence Says Yes!

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Garlic cloves.

For whatever reason, trout have, indeed, shown that they are attracted to the garlic scent. Anglers have been using garlic baits for trout with great success for decades.

Some things just don’t make sense. Like the little hook-keeper just above the cork handle on your fly rod. Nobody uses them anymore, yet manufacturers keep building rods with hook-keepers. 

What else doesn’t make sense? Garlic trout bait. 

I’m a die-hard fly fisher. I haven’t used a baitcaster or spinning rod for trout in years. And that means I haven’t used bait for years.

But, during a recent outing with some local kids, I had to help the youngsters rig up their spinning rods. They wanted to try their hands at fishing for the first time. They didn’t know where to start. 

So, I and a group of volunteers took a handful of kids to the local fishing pond, where the state fish and game department regularly stocks hatchery rainbow trout.

“So what do we use for bait?” one of the kids asked me. I just finished rigging up his rod, and I had the same question. I looked over at a buddy of mine who helped organize the outing. 

“Worms?” I asked. “Salmon eggs?”

He shook his head, and handed me a little jar of marshmallow bait. I looked at the label. 


Yes, Garlic!

It wasn’t a foreign notion, I guess. After all, trout do have a keen sense of smell. The two nostrils (called “nares”) on the snout of every trout are used primarily for sifting through all the smells in the water.

Trout don’t use their nostrils to breathe. That’s what gills are for. Their nares are only used for olfactory purposes. 

And garlic? Well, let’s just say it has a certain odor. And, it would appear hatchery rainbows love the stuff. 

The garlic scented bait I formed around a snelled hook during the kids’ outing proved to be the trout catcher. Dropped under a single split-shot weight and dangled under a bobber, the garlic bait worked wonders. 

Garlic has been used by bait anglers for years. But I’m also learning that it’s mostly used to catch stocked trout. These are fish that were raised in concrete raceways and fed a steady diet of pellets. 

The senses of a stocked trout are likely a bit muted. They just aren’t exposed to the stimuli that wild trout see (or hear or smell) day in and day out. And the pungent smell of garlic might be enough to excite a hatchery trout that’s used to being fed fish food that’s tossed into their tanks. 

That may be why kids using the garlic bait cleaned up at the stocked trout pond. 

An Olfactory Lesson

Close up image of trout.
Notice the nostrils, or “nares” on the snout of a trout. A trout’s nose is 500 times more sensitive than ours is.

Wild trout depend on their senses of smell for more than just food. The uber-sensitive nares on the snouts of the fish are also used to guide trout home to their spawning waters. Trout use their olfactory capability to find spawning fish, identify threats and determine the quality of the water in which they swim. 

In fact, their sense of smell is 500 times more potent than our own. Even a hatchery trout has a better “nose” than we do. 

That may be why the sharp odor of garlic appeals to stocked trout. But even then, nobody really knows why the sharp garlic smell appeals to trout. But, if you fish with garlic-scented bait, you know it works, right?

Simple to Use

Garlic baits come in various forms. I noted the marshmallow version above. It also comes in a dough and even in a gel. Some lures and soft-plastics are even coated in a garlic-scented chemical. 

To use garlic-scented marshmallow bait and dough bait, simply form it around the hook. I’d recommend a size 12 snelled hook, and drop it below a light split-shot weight. The weight will help get the bait into the feeding zone. Without weight, marshmallow bait floats. 

Garlic gel is simply applied to lures, soft plastics or even other baits. One of the anglers I fished with when we took the kids out is a die-hard bait angler. He smears garlic gel on his worms and salmon eggs. 

Final thoughts

Don’t overthink it. We fly fishers … we like to think that our brand of fishing has a higher calling. The art of fooling trout with concoctions crafted from feathers and fur doesn’t seem quite so pure when that same fish might eat a garlic-scented blob of dough from a can. 

If you like to fish for trout with bait, and you’re not using garlic-scented baits, you only have to ask yourself one question: Why not?

It works. It’s worked for decades. Give it a shot and see for yourself. 


Why Does Garlic Scent Work for Trout?

Many believe it works very well for stocked trout that were reared in hatcheries. These fish weren’t exposed to more natural odors in the water, so the sharp smell of garlic might appeal to them. 

What Other Smells Attract Trout? 

Trout have keen olfactory systems, so the key on smells. Some anglers use fish oil or krill oil to attract trout. Others stick with traditional live baits that also give off smells, like worms or salmon eggs.

Is Garlic Only Used on Baits?

No. There are garlic gels and even garlic sprays anglers can use to apply to lures and soft plastics. 

Can You Use Garlic With Flies?

It’s been suggested by some fly fishers that garlic powder be sprinkled on flies. There’s no evidence that it works. That said, there’s no evidence that it doesn’t work either. 

Chris Hunt Avatar


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