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All about the Scent: Inside the Success of Scented Soft Plastics like Berkely Gulp! and Plugbait!

All over the East coast and into the Gulf of Mexico you will find anglers raving over their success with Berkely Gulp! baits while fishing for both inshore and offshore species. It's no secret that these baits produce fish. These soft, scented baits have evolved to include a wide variety of sizes, colors, and mimic many types of prey that you would find in your local waters. From speckled trout in the south, striped bass in the Northeast, and all the flounder/fluke in between, Gulp! has caught it all. Now, we are seeing a new product emerge that is local to the Northeast and sure is producing a lot of fish.

Catching the eye of many anglers this summer season is Plugbait!, ( a scented soft plastic that is giving Gulp! a run for its money. As a fishing nerd and actual chemist by profession, I did some research and ran a few tests on these products that produced some truly impressive results. In this article I discuss how baits like Plugbait! and Gulp! produce fish, show videos of my realtime experiment, and discuss these results to prove why Plugbait! holds a slight upper-hand on its rival. First time on the site? Be sure to follow us on our social media linked above and subscribe to our email list for giveaways and updates!

Price Breakdown:

With several years of experience in the tackle industry, we often joke that Berkely was printing money with their Gulp! products as it would fly off the wall. For the most part, depending on sale prices and online vs. tackle shop prices, Gulp! sells from $5.99-7.99 on average. For large 6in grubs, that averages to almost $2 a piece for a 4 count pack. Plugbait! offers the same size grub in a higher quantity on their website for $9.99 which is just over $1.50 a piece in a 6 count pack. Overall, Plugbait! is slightly less in cost, and conveniently offers larger quantities. Below is a side by side comparison of both products.

Scent Breakdown:

While both of these baits are indeed scented, they are actually quite different in their chemical composition. We'll first cover Berkely's product with points made by the founder of the Gulp! bait line, John Prochnow, in a Field and Stream article interview. Obviously, not too much on the process can be given away, but Prochnow explains how they utilize a water-based polymer unlike traditional oil-based PVC material for most soft plastics. This goes hand-in-hand with their water based scent attractant which in the chemistry world falls under the term "like dissolves like". Essentially, the unique, water-based material allows for the bait to absorb the also water-based scent like a sponge would absorb water. Prochnow also hints on how the Gulp! Alive juice in the pints of baits and recharge bottles contains a high concentration of hydrating modifiers which replaces the water from a bait that has been soaked and fished for a long period of time with the Gulp! juice scent to be used over and over again. This article with Field and Stream will be linked at the end and is a great read.

Unlike Berkely Gulp! that doesn't let their secret scent out to the general public, Plugbait! claims right away that the main scent component is a long time favorite sheddar crab oil imitation, Fin-Essence. This is an oil based scent which is absorbed by the grubs that marinate in the attractant in their bags and containers. I was curious to see how this oily scent would hold up in the saltwater as it is common knowledge that these two things do not mix well. The oil will form a circular bilayer to expel water and decrease surface interactions which creates a slick pattern like you would find from a bunker school or other baitfish.

Put Em' to the Test:

I developed a process to test how these scents react in saltwater and what this looks like in relation to fishing these baits. Here's how it went:

In each large bowl is saltwater that is the same concentration as the ocean, roughly 3.5% by weight. From left to right in the smaller bowls along the bottom is a regular mister twister grub as our control, Plugbait! grub, and then Gulp! swimming mullet. On the right, each bait is marinating in their own scent with a few drops of blue, water-based dye except for the mister twister grub that's in saltwater.

I dropped each grub into the saltwater and then agitated it over time to see how the scent would disperse into the water. I'll now go through each and explain which one I think is most effective and why at the end.

Mister Twister Control:

On the right is just saltwater and a few drops of blue dye, but note how the dye is water based and was easily absorbed by the saltwater. When dropped into the large bowl of saltwater, you will notice there really wasn't anything absorbed by the grub or dispersed into the water. While these plain grubs do attract fish, the absence of scent is off putting once a fish strikes the soft plastic leading to a small timeframe to set the hook.

Again, this is just the control for comparison. These next two reveal some pretty interesting results.


As anticipated, the water-based dye did not mix well with the Fin-Esscence scent which is oil-based. After mixing it in, you can still see the specs of dye as it will not fully mix due to the repelling interactions of the fat molecules in oil with the water. What we should see when this grub is dropped into the water is an oily slick as mentioned previously. Since the grub is marinated in the scent, it should give off quite a bit of a slick, let's see what happens in the video below.

Right around 8 seconds into this first clip I place the grub in and instantly a large amount of oil slicks off the bait into the water. I agitate it some more and you can see the oil from the blue dye actually sinking off of the bait and down into the water.

Again, from another angle you can see the slick that is formed around the grub as I pick it up and drop it back in. The blue slick of oil increases as more is released from the bait. This was definitely impressive as it did not seem too much of the Fin-Essence scent was on the grub initially. Now, keep this oil based reaction in mind as we look at the water-based Gulp! scent next.

Berkely Gulp!:

Just like the control with only saltwater, the blue dye dissolved into the water-based Gulp! scent as expected. I found it interesting that the bait seemed to turn a slight blue as well from what I would assume to be the nature of the absorbent, water-based polymer material.

As expected with a water-soluble scent placed in a large quantity of water, the scent given off of the swimming mullet was clear to see in the first video. Once agitated, it gave off less scent which can be observed in the second video, but with such a water soluble attractant it is difficult to see. Also, it was interesting that the bait actually sank which is unlike other soft plastics which typically hold a natural buoyancy like the Plugbait! in the last video.

Just to satisfy my curiosities, I dumped the remainder of the dyed scents in the small glass containers into the saltwater. The videos below show the following results and keep in mind each had equal amounts of liquid. First, is the Plugbait! Fin-Esscence.

You can clearly see with the blue dye how a scent of this oily nature interacts with the water forming these circular bilayers. What I found interesting was the oil actually disperses from these concentrated bilayers and sinks in the water as well as along the surface. I found this really impressive and highly applicable for a soft plastic scent.

Gulp!, as anticipated, dissolved into the water at a rapid rate which is shown below.

We know this water-based scent would do just this, but in the big picture the key to Gulp! success is how the bait itself absorbs so much of the scent. This high concentration of scent in the soft plastic itself is what keeps fish lockjawed on the hook long after the initial bite.

But which one do I use?

I've personally always been a fan of if its not broke, don't fix it, but I really think Plugbait! has something awesome here. While Gulp! is tried and true with some complex science to their methods, I'd say that this local company Plugbait! will become a true contender. When it comes to catching fish, I've found the fish readily take either offering, with the Plugbait! holding up a touch better in the durability department. Their oily Fin-Esscence scent is truly impressive and I feel mimics the schools of baitfish that fish feed on in the Northeast. Plus, these baits have a natural buoyancy which provides great action when fished on a jig or bucktail. Definitely check them out online at and pick up a bag or two to try for yourself on your next trip to the bay or reef. Feel free to drop a comment or question below with your 2 cents on the topic and sign up for our email list for updates. Tight lines and thanks for reading!

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