Do Bass Have Teeth? How To Handle Bass

Dale Shetler
By Dale Shetler
Updated February 13, 2020

Bass fishing brings about numerous rewarding and relaxational benefits – but a lack of knowledge can quite easily lead to incorrect handling that may cause damage to your catch. We’ve all seen the pictures of fishermen holding bass at an angle by their mouths, which brings about two questions:

  1. Is this the correct way to hold bass?
  2. Does that mean bass have no teeth?

If you’re keen to build your bass knowledge to implement the safest and kindest fishing practices, we’ll cover everything you need to know below.

Do Bass Have Teeth?

A look inside a bass mouth

It’s wise to ask this question about any fish before you consider putting your fingers anywhere near its mouth, but in the case of bass, when the thumb-in-mouth holding approach is so popular, you want to be all the more in-the-know.

Although you may not be able to see them (or even feel them), bass do have teeth – and they’re fairly sharp, too. Bass don’t exactly have the powerful jaws of a shark, but they do have small, needle-sharp teeth that can break skin fairly easily.

Why do Bass have Teeth?

Predominantly, bass use their teeth to snatch up their pray before killing it inside their throats. Bass teeth aren’t large or strong enough to do any real damage, but they’re ideal for keeping a solid grip on a thrashing prey. Different species of bass enjoy different foods, but they all largely use their teeth for the same purpose.

Also see - What do bass eat?

Teeth on Different Bass Species

Let’s briefly look in more detail at the different species of bass and their types of teeth:

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass drawing

Largemouth bass have a row of impressive teeth that almost seem like one entity. They’re not dangerous enough to do more than give you bass thumb (more on this later) at the worst, but it’s worth being aware of them when going near a largemouth bass mouth.

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth bass drawing

Like largemouth bass, smallmouth bass have a row of fine teeth that feel rough and sandpapery to the touch.

As their name suggests, their smaller mouths mean that they feast on smaller prey, but you’ll still need to ensure the right handling to avoid damage to either your thumb or the fish.

Striped Bass

Striped Sea Bass drawing

Striped bass also have – you guessed it – a neat row of small teeth that are designed for firmly grasping prey and holding on for periods of time.

Striped bass can turn their heads quite agilely, so you might want to avoid putting your thumb near the mouth of a striped bass unless you’ve got a decent pair of fish lip grippers to hand.

Peacock Bass

Peacock bass have rows of small, raspy teeth and powerful jaws. They’re more difficult to hook, as they’ll quite often grab a lure and swim away with it. You can hold a peacock bass without getting too badly nibbled, though, providing you’re skilled (or patient) enough to catch one.

Rock Bass

To complete the trend, rock bass have the same row of small, pointy teeth that they use to hold onto prey like shrimp, crayfish and smaller fish. Technically, it should be easier to lip a rock bass because of its smaller teeth, but its mouth is also fairly tiny, so take extra care if you’re a man of chubbier thumbs.

Staying Sensible With Out-Of-Water Time

Although bass are very unlikely to bite you when you first take them out of the water, keep in mind that it won’t take too long before your prized catch starts to become agitated, and will begin twisting from side to side, looking for a means of escape.

In all instances, this is a pretty clear sign that you should alleviate the fish’s discomfort and get it back into the water, but when you’ve got your thumb inside of the mouth of a bass, it’s all the more important that you take the hint and gently return it to its favoured environment. Don’t expect a bass to have the power to rip the tip of your thumb off, but it may scratch at your skin, which isn’t the most pleasant of feelings.

Rods and Fishing Line for Bass Teeth

The type of fishing rod and line you should use for bass fishing depends on a number of factors, including your fishing technique, and, of course, the fish itself.

Keep in mind that many bass have strong jaws that can quite quickly tear a fishing line, so look for a type of line that’s abrasion resistant. When choosing a rod for your bass fishing, you’ll find it helpful to be aware of the best casting and spinning rods for bass fishing based on your personal fishing preferences.

How to Correctly Hold a Bass

If you consider yourself to be something of a fishing veteran, you might think that holding a bass is easy – or, at least, you’ve perfected your own technique that seems to work well enough. In theory, while what you’re doing probably isn’t wrong, there are most likely better techniques you could utilize to prevent harm to the fish.

Keep in mind that holding a bass at too much of an angle – usually anything greater than 10 degrees – can put too much pressure on the bass’ jaw, which may affect its ability to catch prey when you release it back into the wild.

Here are the three most common methods of holding bass, for your “prized catch” photo purposes and beyond:

1. The Vertical Hold

person using vertical hold to handle bass

Fishing experts agree that the safest way to hold a bass is vertically, with its mouth facing the sky and its tail pointing ground-wards. This relieves any pressure on the bass’ jaw from the weight of its body.

When you hold a bass vertically, make sure your thumb is placed inside the mouth of the bass to firmly keep a hold of its bottom lip. Press the rest of your fingers against the outside of the lip, and keep a firm grip to avoid dropping the fish.

2. The Horizontal Hold

woman using a horizontal hold to handle bass

There’s no denying that the horizontal hold makes for a far more visually appealing “prized catch” photo opportunity, and providing you know the right technique, there’s no reason why you can’t horizontally hold a bass.

Get your grip right by following the above advice for the vertical hold, placing your thumb inside the bass’ mouth at the bottom lip, and the rest of your fingers on the outside of the lip. Then use your other hand to support the body of the fish just behind the anal fin. Keep the mouth a little higher than the body to prevent pressure on the fish’s jaw.

The Angled Hold

Man using angled hold on bass

The angled hold might be popularly displayed on fishermen’s photos, but it should only ever be considered for smaller bass, as it could cause damage to the jaw of a larger bass in almost all circumstances.

You can recognise an angled hold by the positioning of the fish’s body to its head – if the body is at a 10% or greater angle from the head, it’s considered angled.

How to Unhook a Bass

You should unhook a bass using the same approach that you would use for general fishing. Reel your catch in until you can grab it with your hand. Then, holding the underside of the fish firmly, slide the hook carefully out of its mouth. You can then lip the bass to hold it more firmly in place – more on how to do that below.

Note that you’ll get more success with bass fishing in the spring, although fishing at certain times of the day can be more effective than choosing a specific time of the year. Make sure you’re aware of the best time of the day for bass fishing, especially if you’re new to the hobby and you’re looking to get as much practice in as possible.

How to Lip a Bass

Knowing how to correctly lip a bass without getting hurt is the sign of an experienced bass fisherman. If you’re lipping bass incorrectly, you risk displaying the inevitable “bass thumb”, a tender, scratched thumb that can occasionally lead to a pretty nasty infection. While some people consider bass thumb to be a sign of bass fishing success, you can technically avoid bass thumb altogether with implementation of the right lipping technique.

If you’re new to fishing altogether, the term “lipping” refers to the method in which you remove a bass from the water and handle it before you release it back where it came from. It’s known as “lipping” because you quite literally hold a bass by its lip to control it while you’re holding it.

It’s easy to panic and ram half your thumb into the mouth of a bass as soon as you’ve unhooked it – which is where the dreaded “bass thumb” can quite easily occur. The trick to avoiding this is to grip the fish’s jaw with a more sensible portion of your thumb, more like the upper 2/3. You’ll still be able to get a firm grip, and the bass’ teeth won’t be able to do any sliding damage across your skin.