Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

When it comes to catfish bait, apparently the nose knows. If it stinks to high heaven, then it’s got to be good; hence the fond name of “stink bait.”

The fun thing about stink bait — not the smell, obviously — is that most devout fishermen have a favorite recipe and will swear on anything that it works. My son, an avid catfisher, once tried mixing his surefire recipe involving strawberry Kool-Aid in his bedroom and didn’t get to the lake soon enough to suit my nose. Yes, a mother’s nose also knows.

It wasn’t the strawberry smell that was offensive. It was the rotten hot dog meat that went with it. And the only smell worse than that was when the leftovers sat in his truck ... in the hot summer sun ... for God knows how long ...

The topic of bait and what fish like came to mind when I was recently browsing through the old issues of Oklahoma Game and Fish News. The Oklahoma Department of Libraries announced last month that all the back issues of the state’s wildlife magazines from 1945 to 1970 are now available on Digital Prairie. This headline caught my eye in the March 1945 issue: Lawton Fisherman “Eggs” ‘Em On. It was a short article submitted to the magazine by Ranger L.E. Crawford and mentioned a local insurance adjuster, J.T. Porter.  Another local name mentioned was Gilbert Hagle, a City National Bank teller. The article alludes to using eggs as bait and has a funny twist to it.

More stink bait recipes

A Broken Bow Ranger shared his stink bait recipe in the February 1945 issue of Oklahoma Game and Fish News. A new commercial stink bait was on the market in Southeastern Oklahoma towns, but the fishermen declared it didn’t work like the old homemade variety. So, Ranger D.W. Kolb, Broken Bow, passed along to readers his time tried recipe for stink bait and, of course, vouched for its fish-getting qualities. 

“Take good Red River minnows and wash them clean,” Kolb wrote. “Then dry them just enough to get all water off. Place in a fruit jar, cover with lid, sit in a cool (not cold) place for four or five days. “Place one clothespin on mixer’s nose, remove lid and stir until the rotted minnows become a thick paste. Dip in a small sponge, impale on a three-way hook and ease gently to the bottom of the best catfish hole you can find – and Bingo!”

The article went on to say that the commercial stink bait was made of Limburger cheese (strong smell due to bacteria), Anise oil (has a licorice aroma and flavor) and Asafetida (some kind of herb?). Here’s another that was sent into Oklahoma Game and Fish in 1945 from Floyd May, an angler at Cold Springs. “Take equal parts of Limburger cheese (the old kind), beef brains and beef liver. Grind the three ingredients in a food chopper, then mix together. Use as any ordinary stink bait,” he wrote. “I consider it the best ever.”

Well, next to beef brains and Limburger cheese, maybe Kool-Aid and rotten hotdogs doesn’t seem so bad.