Like the character Tommy in the rock opera “Pinball Wizard,” red drum often feed in turbid or dirty water where they can’t see; this means they play almost entirely by their sense of smell, even relying on it in clear water.
Most fishing guides agree that reds have an incredibly good sense of smell, and this trait can be used to lead them to your baits. That’s why scented lures, adding scent to lures or using natural baits works on reds, whose mouths are on the bottom of their heads. That’s a physical characteristic of bottom-feeders that forage along the bottom, rooting up crabs and shrimp they have located with their keen olfactory systems.
Guide Mark Stacy of Ocean Isle, N.C., thinks crabs — or at least pieces of fresh crab — are the ultimate baits for red drum. He said crab oil spreads through water extremely well and will attract any reds in the immediate area; their superior noses allow them to typically find the pieces of crab before other fish.
Stacy said the only thing he believes may be better than the scent of crabs is the scent of peeler crabs. Biologists agree something in the body chemistry of crabs changes to allow them to shed their old shell and replace it. Something in this change process must also alter the scent of the crab. Stacy said the difference must be experienced to be appreciated.
Red drum are almost always hungry and will usually feed unless they are spooked or a bait looks really bad. However, when they catch the scent of a crab, it kicks their appetite into overdrive, and they lose all sense of fear while tracking it down.