BATON ROUGE – Fish bait: it's messy, smelly and typically problematic. Live bait is inconvenient and only good for one day, but with expensive and more permanent lures, you run the risk of losing an investment if the line breaks. Soft baits, those gummy pieces of brightly colored plastic familiar from your father's tackle box, are good essentially only as visual cues for fish. LSU Professor John Caprio and Mystic Tackleworks have changed all that by developing Attraxx with Sci-X, a scientifically designed soft bait that preys on fish sight, smell and taste – the major sensory systems that a fish depends on to find its dinner.
"Attraxx is the best soft lure on the market today because it's driven by science and by what fish want," said Caprio, George C. Kent Professor of Biological Sciences and a specialist in fish taste and smell systems. "When I developed Sci-X, the chemical attractant and feeding stimulator behind the Attraxx fishing lures, I didn't guess what chemicals attracted the fish and caused them to ingest a lure. I researched it – the fish told me."
Caprio studies the chemosensory systems of a number of common fresh and saltwater fish species. He has spent much of the last three decades researching and perfecting the technology to determine the natural stimuli that activate fish smell and taste systems and applying that information into lures that increase the odds of making a catch. Caprio monitors the nerve activity coming from these taste and smell receptors in response to chemical stimuli. In this way, he discovered the specific natural stimuli that activate both smell and taste sensors, resulting in nerve reflexes that cause the fish to ingest food or an appropriate fishing lure.
"Attraxx with Sci-X is so attractive to fish that it not only gets them to bite the lure, but they actually eat it. It really activates their feeding instinct, and so they hang onto it and attempt to swallow the bait even while you're reeling them in," said Caprio. "Attraxx is the most effective lure out there because it has many years of scientific research behind it. Sci-X is evenly dispersed throughout each lure so that even if a piece breaks off, the rest can still catch fish."
Knowing the appropriate chemicals to use is the first step in developing a scientifically-designed fishing lure, but creating the appropriate matrix to hold those chemicals and release them into the water in an efficient, beneficial way is equally important.
"LSU's Office of Intellectual Property was integral in the development of Attraxx," said Caprio. "After going through the office to license the Sci-X compound I created to Mystic Tackleworks, they connected me with a member of the chemical engineering faculty here, Professor James Henry, an expert in composite materials."
Henry, whose primary work involves developing matrixes to replace bone destroyed in catastrophic accident or disease, was excited by the somewhat out-of-the-ordinary offer of collaboration.
"This was a really interesting project to work on," said Henry. "I never imagined that I would be working on soft fishing lures in my life, but I couldn't be happier with the project."
The turnaround involved was a bonus for Henry, too.
"Working with materials that impact human health is very fulfilling but very time consuming," said Henry. "I won't see completion of most of my projects in my lifetime, but I received packages of Attraxx just last month. It's really a nice feeling to see the final outcome of your work and know it's been successful."
While expertise in developing biomaterials was essential to forming a successful matrix for the lure, so was knowledge about the actual sport of fishing.
"There are a lot of soft baits on the market. Most of them are just plastic – there's no chemical scent, just visual and mechanical stimuli," said Caprio. "Those that do have some chemical basis are messy, inconvenient to use and can dry out on the hook as a hard, crusty material. But once we brought James into the mix with President of Mystic Tackleworks Howard Hammonds and manufacturer Bill Trevino of Fisherman III Lures Inc. (Apopka, FL), they were able to develop the perfect material, a convenient 'package' that's easy to transport and use in the limited confines of a boat. It not only houses the Sci-X compound but effectively releases it in a no fuss, no muss kind of way."
Hammonds, a 20-year veteran in the fishing tackle industry, worked closely with Henry to develop some essential requirements for the lure matrix.
"Howard [Hammonds] gave me the parameters I needed to fulfill in order for the lure to be successful," said Henry. "I needed those details in order to develop a matrix that could house the compound effectively. He was extremely helpful in the process."
The characteristics of this matrix also allow for the lures to be produced in a range of dynamic colors and styles, allowing fishermen the flexibility to choose from dozens of designs.
"Attraxx really is a revolutionary bait," said Caprio. "In 2010, we started to field test it and also sent prototypes to professional fishermen, boat captains, sportswriters and regular weekend fishermen. The feedback has been overwhelming!"
Many Attraxx users have written the company to express their love for the effectiveness of the bait, its ease of use and also its ability to attract both freshwater and saltwater fish.
"What do fishermen want a lure to do? Attract fish and get them to bite, right? Well, without a doubt, that's what Attraxx with Sci-X does," said Caprio. "I formulated Sci-X to be attractive to any species of fish anywhere. And that's what fisherman are catching with it – everything!"
In fact, reports of catching everything from redfish, snapper and speckled trout to black drum, flounder and freshwater largemouth bass are common.
Because of Mystic Tackleworks' commitment to science and Caprio's role as a sensory biologist, the brand's logo was designed to reflect the scientific nature of the lures. The double-X in its name represents chromosomes coding for fish taste and smell receptors.
The bait, which is inexpensive and easily available, has been featured in sportsman magazines such as Marsh & Bayou. Mystic Tackleworks anticipates a thorough product roll-out in Louisiana and much of the nation in time for the upcoming spring fishing season and beyond.
For more information, visit www.mystictackleworks.com.
More news and information can be found on LSU's home page at www.lsu.edu