You’ve found the perfect day to grab your fishing gear and get out on the water—the tackle box is loaded, the day is young, and your license is in hand. When you check the local fishing report to see what’s biting, you’re probably thinking more about hooks and lures than getting snared by a snaggletoothed fish. However, if a bass is your catch, you’d want to know how to land it safely.
Bass fish can hurt you, and you need to know how to handle your catch properly. When you fish bass, you want to land your catch without getting cut or punctured by sharp teeth, gill plates, or spiky dorsal fins. Some handling techniques can change your bass fishing trip from risky to rewarding.
Bass fishing is popular, rewarding, and accessible in all seasons and types of water to everyone from beginners to competitive sport. This article is intended to give you practical information to understand how to handle bass without getting hurt and make your next fishing trip relaxing, safe, and fun. Read on to learn how to safely land your next bass catch and level up your fishing game.
Types of Bass
There are different types of bass, and each can present different challenges to anglers in terms of size and fight to land. In North America, bass species generally fall into two groups, Sunfishes, including several Black Bass species, and Temperate Bass, also known as “sea basses.”
- Black bass is a freshwater fish. The most common species are the largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass. They typically are found in lakes, streams, ponds, and reservoirs. The largemouth bass is among the top species to fish in the United States and highly prized in recreational and tournament fishing.
- Temperate basses include white perch, striped bass, white bass, and yellow bass. Striped bass, also called “striper” and “rockfish,” is the largest of the temperate basses and generally lives in saltwater and spawns in freshwater. White perch favors coastal waters and estuaries with slightly brackish water and can live in freshwater, and white bass and yellow bass are freshwater fish.
How Can You Get Hurt When Fishing Bass?
While bass fish do not seek to harm humans, anglers can get hurt when fishing bass. After catching a bass, the last thing you want is to run afoul of its teeth or dorsal fins.
All fish have teeth, and bass is no exception. Largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass have small, sharp teeth that face inward around their lips that they use to catch and hold prey. Their teeth have been described as feeling like sandpaper, tiny sharp needles, and a shallow saw blade.
While you may not feel their teeth right away, basses are often held by the mouth. The longer you hold on to your catch, and the more it writhes to escape, the more likely you are to get “Bass Thumb,” which is condition anglers get from holding their catch by the mouth or from improper lipping. It’s usually a minor injury that some regard as the sign of a good day of fishing, while others see it as a sign of a bad lipping technique.
Experts suggest gripping the bass jaw with the bottom part of your thumb near the base to refine your lipping technique. This grip helps anglers control the fish and prevent injury.
Spiky Dorsal Fins
Bass also have spiky dorsal fins that can puncture your hand when handling the fish and become infected. While not a common subject of articles about bass, bass fishing forums are filled with questions about puncture wounds from holding or de-hooking a bass.
Proper Handling Techniques That Help Protect You and the Bass
Proper bass handling techniques are designed to protect both the angler and the bass. While bass are fished for consumption, many anglers use catch-and-release fishing to balance enjoyment of the sport with the conservation of native species and natural resources.
In addition to protecting yourself, proper handling reduces the risk of harm to the bass. The longer they are held out of the water, the more they tend to fight to escape, which increases your risk of injury, and the risk of harming the fish.
In catch-and-release fishing, the bass is released back into its native waters after being caught. This is by using handling techniques that protect the fish by limiting the time the bass is out of the water, cause the least stress to the fish, and protect its natural coating to help ensure its safe release and quick recovery.
There are three ways to hold a bass properly: vertically, horizontally, and at an angle. Each holding technique is described briefly below, and detailed demonstrations are available in various YouTube videos, like the one below:
Despite its widespread use, a vertical hold is not recommended for a bass weighing more than 3 pounds (1.4 kgs) because its jaw may not support the full weight of the fish. To hold a bass vertically, follow these steps:
- Put your thumb in its mouth and your fingers outside.
- Firmly grip its bottom lip so that it does not fall.
- Lift the fish, keeping its mouth pointing upward and its tail hanging down, directly below its mouth.
This hold reduces your contact with the bass, protects its coating, and puts the least pressure on its jaw.
The longer you hold the fish, the more likely it will start to struggle to get free, and the more its teeth can start to rub against your thumb. Limiting the time you hold the bass will help protect you, and it will help the bass recover from the stress of being caught and held out of the water.
Many anglers show off their bass in a horizontal hold. To do a horizontal hold, follow these steps:
- Place the bass in a secure vertical hold.
- Then, place your fingers under its belly at the base of its tail or rear fin to support its weight.
- Move the bass into a horizontal position, keeping its head slightly above its tail.
- Touch the bass with as few fingers as possible to protect its coating.
When you hold a bass by its jaw with its body angled more than 10 degrees from its head, it is called an angled hold. An angled hold’s pressure can damage its jaw and impair its ability to feed, so it is recommended only for smaller bass, around 3 to 4 pounds (1.4 to 1.8 kgs). As the weight of your catch increases, so does the likelihood that it can be injured in an angled hold.
Additional Tips When Fishing Bass
If you are catch-and-release fishing, some additional tips can help minimize your contact with a slippery, struggling fish.
- Use a landing net instead of your fishing line to bring the bass onto your boat.
- Net and unhook the bass while it is still in the water.
- Handle the bass the minimum amount necessary, and if you don’t need to take it out of the water, unhook it in the net and release it.
Bass fishing is a popular competitive and recreational sport in all water types for anglers of all levels. Part of its appeal is the challenge of landing your catch and maybe hooking the fish of a lifetime. Once you know how to handle bass without injuring yourself, you can enjoy catching the many bass varieties with confidence.
- Awesome Mitten: Bass Thumb — The Painful Sign of a Good Day
- Chesapeake Bay Program: White Perch
- Deseret News: Utah’s Game Fish: Striped Bass
- Fishing Booker: Types of Bass in North America: A Simple Guide
- Fishing Refined: Do Bass Have Teeth? How to Handle Bass
- Freshwater Fishing Advice: Do Bass Have Teeth? How to Safely Handle A Bass
- KayakGuru: How to Hold and Handle a Bass
- National Park Service: How to Safely Catch and Release
- Orbit Fishing: How to Hold a Bass
- Orvis: Pro Tips: Support Your Bass – Stop the Lip Grip!
- Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission: Temperate Basses
- Premiere Angler: Do Bass Have Teeth?
- Reference: Do All Fish Have Teeth?
- SeaAngler: How to Handle Bass Safely and Correctly
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Largemouth Bass
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Striped Bass
- Your Bass Guy: How to Hold and Handle a Bass Like an Expert Angler