Can you eat bass? The short answer is yes.
But be aware that keeping largemouth can be contentious, and most serious bass anglers frown on the practice, preferring catch and release.
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Strict catch and release for bass originated with tournament angling. According to Dr. Wes Neal, “During the earliest bass tournaments, there were no livewells, and most legal bass arrived to weigh-in dead. The sight of so many dead bass over a weekend tournament ruffled quite a few feathers, as local anglers worried that the excessive harvest would hurt their fisheries. Even worse, anglers targeted and killed the largest fish.”
Angler fishermen and conservation-minded sportsmen decided to make a change. Releasing the bass after the official weigh-in is meant to ensure the continuation of the sport, and this mindset has carried over to most fishermen.
As a result, few anglers keep bass, and some can get downright cranky if they see you dropping one in the live well or cooler.
I think there’s pretty much no question that taking trophy bass can reduce the productivity of a lake or pond and decrease the likelihood that future trophies are available. And I’d never recommend this practice.
But many smaller lakes and ponds that might otherwise produce real monsters find themselves choked by far too many small bass. Huge numbers of the little ones squeeze-out space for the big ones, reducing the food available for big bass to grow and reproduce.
And for largemouth, the availability of food is the biggest factor determining size.
Too many small bass don’t leave food for the big ones.
In situations like this, taking legal but small bass actually helps--a lot.
Dr. Neal notes, “In ponds and small lakes, harvesting bass is not only encouraged, it is usually required to have fast bass growth rates and larger maximum sizes. Most southern states recommend harvesting anywhere from 15 to 35 pounds of bass per acre per year, depending on the specific pond situation.”
And Bob Lusk insists, “If you want trophy bass...cull, cull, cull. Cull until the lake forces you to stop.”
I’ve seen this in action in a friend’s private pond. By removing the little guys, he made room for some real brutes, which of course he then released.
But on large public lakes, that may not be a problem.
A combination of high fishing pressure and relatively low productivity per acre means that small enclosures often sport much, much larger bass populations.
The upshot? I’d only recommend keeping small bass from small ponds.
With the incredible social pressure to catch and release largemouth, it’s no surprise that more than a few myths and rumors have arisen to justify this practice.
Chief among them is that bass is either muddy-tasting or soggy, and in either case, unfit for the table.
Let me tell you that this is flat-out wrong!
Does this look edible to you?
Largemouth, especially the smaller ones, have firm, white meat that’s delicate in flavor and very similar to a large bluegill or sunfish. That should come as no surprise since they eat from the same menu!
Larger bass can indeed be less firm, but that’s true of many species that we wouldn’t consider passing up for a meal. And like virtually all fish, smaller specimens are better tasting.
A few tips will help you get the most from any bass you decide to keep:
That’s a good looking, clean fillet!
Conservation is critical to the sport, as is obedience to legal restrictions on size. But in many smaller ponds, especially in the south, wildlife biologists and fisheries managers are begging the public to take small bass home.
If you’d take bass but are unsure about the taste, don’t believe the naysayers! Largemouth is delicious, and it’ll soon become one of your favorites.