If there’s one unspoken rule of bass fishing, it’s catch and release.
We all love the sport, and for every angler I’ve ever met, that means we take care of bass to protect the future of fishing.
If you want to kill a bass, this is a great way to start…
I know you wince at a gut hook just like I do, and you get an unsettled feeling deep in your belly after seeing a dead bass floating on the water. But as dangerous as gut hooks are, mishandling bass probably kills more fish overall, as this is far, far more common and very dangerous for the fish.
Some studies report death rates from all causes to be as high as 36% for tournaments!
And while everything from time on the hook to the water composition in your live well affects this, mishandling is an easy mistake to avoid.
If you want to know how to hold bass properly - and I know you do - keep reading!
Table of Contents (clickable)
How to Hold Bass
Save the slime!
As anyone who’s ever touched a bass knows, they’re covered in a healthy layer of slime.
This mucus does at least two things: it improves hydrodynamics and offers protection against disease.
A bass’s skin is covered in rough, armored scales that create a lot of drag as they move through the water. That slime coating smooths the surface, acting like grease and improving the scales’ hydrodynamic efficiency.
But as Bob Thomas reports, “the slime also affords the fish protection against surface invaders like fungi, bacteria and ectoparasites, and it contains medicinal qualities that are soothing to open wounds. It is so effective that medical researchers are working feverishly to isolate the slime’s active ingredients in an attempt to find applications for human infections.”
Scientists like Sandra Loesgen are hard at work on just that, explaining that “this viscous substance protects fish from bacteria, fungi, and viruses in their environment, trapping the microbes before they can cause infections. The slime is also rich in polysaccharides and peptides known to have antibacterial activity.”
Removing that mucus is almost a death sentence for bass as you’re basically stripping away its protection from water-borne disease and parasites.
This angler is almost certainly removing a lot of fish slime - a great example of what not to do!
The trick here is to minimize dry contact with the bass, minimize its time in a net or on the deck, and minimize its time out of the water.
Here is a list of the most common slime-removal moments in a catch, and we’ve all been guilty of at least a few of these:
- Hitting the bottom of the boat.
- Sliding them up the bank if catching them from shore.
- Using a net (if you must, use a rubberized fishing net).
- Body grabbing with dry hands.
- Making them stop flopping by supporting them in between knees.
- Putting fish in a dry livewell.
Sometimes a fighting bass is going to hit your boat, but the rest of those practices can be avoided.
If you can avoid using a net, do!
Fight your bass to the side of your boat or bank, get your free hand wet, and keep tension on the line. Gently reach your thumb into the bass’s mouth, using your fingers to grip the bottom of its jaw.
Now lift it clear of the water, keeping the tail directly below the head.
This is the proper technique for holding a bass vertically.
Keeping the head directly over the tail minimizes stress on the bass’s jaw, preventing injury that might make it unable to feed when you release it.
This one-handed lipping technique also reduces contact with the slime coating, ensuring that the fish remains healthy.
If the fish is too heavy for you to hold it comfortably with one hand, you can use your other hand - after wetting it - to support the bass’s belly, avoiding the anal fin.
This is the correct way to hold a bass with two hands.
That second hand supports the fish’s weight, reducing stress on the jaw and neck.
You can fold down the anal fin if you’re careful.
The wrong way to do this is to grip the lip and lift the bass’s tail past vertical.
Bad technique can kill bass.
That places a lot of stress on the bass’s jaw, potentially causing injury. And if an injured fish can’t feed, it’ll die - not today, not while you're still on the lake - but days or weeks later.
You’ll think you’ve done everything right, but you’ve killed that bass as surely as if you took it home for dinner.
Proper bass handling preserves the sport for future generations, and it’s just as important as avoiding gut hooks or preparing your live well.
And while fish handling isn’t rocket science, knowing how to do it right is something we need to teach and reinforce whenever we can.
We hope you learned something from this article today, and we’d love to hear any questions you might have.
Please leave a comment below.