When it comes to whisker-fish food, the nose knows best. So we gave four popular brands a sniff test to see what all of the stink is about.

Magic Bait Great Scott Liver & Cheese Dough Bait


Photos by Luke Nilsson

Reminiscent of grandpa’s “special” sandwiches, the Old Country odor blends the salinity of beef bouillon with a mineral mustiness not encountered since a high-school locker room after gym class.

These cubes water the eyes and turn the stomach–exactly what catfish bait should do. Pinched around a treble hook, they dissolve slowly over a half hour in still water ($4.29;

Little Stinker Chicken Liver Dip Bait


While the initial assault, as well as the looks, screams almond butter, the nuttiness actually opens up into pure parmesan cheese. Break out the pasta, or better yet, the cane pole. Add in the bite of burnt garlic, and what this bait lacks in liver it makes up for in catfish-attracting acridity. Once in the water, it disperses instantly, sending a wide scent trail downstream ($5;

Berkley Gulp! Catfish Shad Guts


Fish meets Frankenstein’s laboratory in a bait ready-made for a Hollywood horror flick–or a hard hookset. At once oily and ironlike, the smell is not wholly unpleasant, reminding one of walks along the Gulf Coast spiked by just a hint of summer’s die-off. Rig them as you would nightcrawlers; these guts will outlast about any bait on the market ($6;

Bowker’s Shrimp Added Dip Bait


Open the jar and get hit with a briny blast, bringing to mind a hot day on the docks. The notes of government cheese and fermented grain are overpowered by a sweet finish scalding the back of the throat with something akin to burnt molasses. This was the smelliest bait of the bunch, though not the longest lasting. Load up a sponge to keep it working longer ($4.75;