Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass? Everything You Need To Know

Written by: Dan R
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Quick answer: Yes, even though there is some controversy around this subject it is safe and legal to eat smallmouth bass. Please visit your state's DNR website for limits and restrictions.

Eating smallmouth bass is a topic that carries with it some controversy. Whether you’re talking to a professional bass angler or a casual weekend fisherman, everyone is going to have an opinion. These opinions tend to fall on one side of the argument or the other, with little give or take. The simple answer to the question: “Can you eat Smallmouth Bass?” Yes, you can.

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Why is the Topic so Controversial?

The early days of tournament bass fishing saw very little in the way of conservation and protection of the fish. The combination of not having the same conservation-minded ideals as present day, and the lack of the proper methods to keep fish alive, meant that tournament weigh-ins resulted in the death of many bigger bass. These bass were spawners and played a major role in sustaining the population in any given lake.

Of course, local fishermen would see this and understandably be concerned about how it was affecting the wellness of their fishery. And so began catch and release. With the advancement in technology and understanding, tournament anglers were able to catch fish and keep them alive, releasing them afterwards to help ensure stable, productive fisheries. 

What this grew into, however, was a mental stronghold amongst tournament anglers that all bass should be released. Pass that stronghold down from generation to generation and born is the controversy of release vs. keep.

The Truth About Harvesting Smallmouth Bass

There are more than a few bass anglers that will strongly argue against eating any Smallmouth and believe that releasing all fish will help conserve the population. While this may be true in some bodies of water, in others conservation isn’t always about releasing each and every Smallmouth you catch.

The term selective harvest is a great one to use when it comes to taking Smallmouth for the table. Being smart about what you are taking from any particular lake is going to lead to a healthier ecosystem.

Let’s say you’re fishing a lake that’s loaded with small bass. You’re catching lots of fish, but nothing of any substantial size. While it may seem like a healthy body of water - there are lots of fish after all - it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. Sure, there are lots of fish and those fish seem to be healthy, but big numbers of small fish are limiting their growth potential. Too much competition for food leaves the Smallmouth Bass population fighting for every scrap and in turn struggling to grow to their potential. Not only does this affect the bass in that lake, but other species as well. Taking a few smaller fish will help control overpopulation and in turn allow the fish to grow to their potential. This is a perfect example of how keeping a few fish for the table can help a population.

Benefits of Eating Smallmouth Bass

Another common misconception that many will use in their argument to not eat smallmouth bass is that they don’t taste good. This could be an ideal that has been passed on from generation to generation, or it could mean that those anglers just haven’t had them prepared properly. Whatever the case, the truth is that smallmouth bass are delicious, especially when taken from colder bodies of water.

Smallmouth are a white meat fish that can be compared to wildly popular panfish when it comes to both flavor and health benefits, and are an excellent source of protein, Omega 3 acids and vitamins B6 and B12. While bigger fish, and fish living in warmer water may be more susceptible to parasites, keeping and eating smaller bass (in the 15 to 16 inch range) can not only provide a delicious meal, but can have numerous health benefits.

Final Thoughts

The controversy of eating Smallmouth Bass is always going to exist. Anglers are a passionate group of people, and it’s that passion that often leads to great conservation practices. This argument can heavily lean to one side or the other, but should be met somewhere in the middle.

Know the bodies of water you’re fishing in, make informed decisions on how keeping and eating Smallmouth can affect that body of water, and not only can you keep and eat them, but there are times when you should. If you haven’t eaten Smallmouth before then you just might be missing out on some of the most delicious table fare to come out of your lake.

About The Author
Dan R
Dan was practically born with a fishing rod in his hand. Growing up in the Great Lakes Region fishing has been a major part of his life from a very young age. When not on the water you can find Dan enjoying time with his family.
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MARK A PINE
MARK A PINE
11 days ago

Good article, short and to the point. I have enjoyed eating Smallmoulth Bass from Lake Erie for over 60 years, I especially like them "blackened". Ice the ones you are going to keep right after you catch them.

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