If you have ever seen fishermen holding the bass they have caught, chances are they have their thumb right inside the mouth.
This might seem like a bad idea to many anglers, or those new to fishing, as a fish’s mouth is usually where the sharp bits are.
I mean, you’d think if you put your thumb inside the mouth of a wahoo or a pike, you would probably lose it, as they have razor-sharp teeth – right? So why do we bass anglers do it with bass? And do bass have teeth?
In this article...
The short answer is yes they do have teeth but not dangerous ones and holding a bass by the mouth is one of the safest ways for both the angler and the fish.
So, join me as we look at bass, their teeth, and how best to safely hold a bass when you catch one so you know just what to do on your next fishing adventure.
Do Bass Have Teeth?
So, do bass have teeth? Yes, bass have teeth but they are such tiny teeth you can barely feel or see them.
Bass teeth are rough teeth and they sit all over the bass’ top and bottom jaws.
They are not used for chewing or breaking flesh apart like a shark’s teeth, for example, they are used for grip.
When a bass ambushes its prey the fine teeth in its mouth hold on to the small prey while it thrashes around trying to get free, before being dispatched in its throat and digested.
Why do we need to know if bass have teeth?
It’s important to know whether bass do have teeth for both the safety of the fish and the fisherman handling them.
Not every bass angler is a catch a release angler, and the last thing anyone wants is to damage a fish before it’s released or to damage ourselves so we can’t fish anymore.
How bass teeth feels
When you hold a bass mouth, your skin can be broken by the teeth.
But, you’ll find it feels more like weak sandpaper, which is why one can hold bass without any serious damage but you might experience bass thumb.
What is Bass Thumb?
If you ask a bass fisherman how their day was, they will probably flash you their thumb as a sign of how it went. If it’s red they caught a lot of bass, if it’s normal, they had a slow day.
Bass thumb? What exactly is bass thumb? I hear you ask.
Bass thumb is red marks on the thumb caused by bass teeth during the holding, aka lipping process.
When holding the mouth of a bass, it will try to shake free which will lead the small teeth to cause some abrasion to the skin and turn it red.
Bass thumb is usually a sign of a good day of bass fishing
Is bass thumb dangerous?
No, it’s perfectly safe and if you are concerned about infection, then there are simple ways to fix it.
You don’t need to worry about getting bass thumb as more than 90% of the time, your body heals it naturally, and it’s not that bad to begin with either.
That being said, a bass’ mouth is full of bacteria and sticking an open wound into a pit of possibly infectious bacteria goes against common sense.
Treating Bass Thumb
To treat bass thumb, you will just need to add some disinfectant to the affected area. Iodine is my favorite disinfectant as it’s painless and very effective, so adding a few drops to your thumb is all you need.
Other great disinfectants include things like Neosporin.
Preventing Bass Thumb
You can also avoid bass thumb altogether by adding a protective covering to your thumb in the form of a bandaid or a large thimble so you can lip bass without the teeth breaking your skin.
If you are good at flipping a bass, you can actually never get bass thumb.
Teeth Of Different Bass Species
Now that we know that bass do have teeth, let’s take a look at whether the teeth of different bass species are the same or not.
It’s an important point to consider or else how would you know whether it’s safe for you and the fish to handle them by the mouth, or not.
The teeth largemouth bass have are a little bigger than other species of bass and it’s common sense that larger bass would have larger teeth since they eat larger prey. If you are curious about what they eat, you can read my article about what do bass eat.
Largemouth bass have a row of teeth at the front of their mouths but largemouth bass teeth won’t hurt you, all you’ll get is a bit of bass thumb.
Smallmouth bass have teeth too, in fact, the same front row as a largemouth but since smallmouth bass are smaller bass, and eat smaller fish, their teeth are smaller too.
Their teeth will still cause some damage to your thumb but not quite as much as a largemouth.
Striped bass are the saltwater cousins of the freshwater fish and they also have a small row of sharp teeth that are designed for gripping and not chewing.
The difference is, stripers are quite a bit bigger and more agile thus they can cause a lot of damage to your thumb by shaking rapidly.
You should avoid holding stripers with your thumb and use a lip gripping tool or fishing gloves instead.
Rock Bass & Peacock Bass
Peacock and rock bass also have a small row of teeth and both are safe to hold with your thumb, only causing at worst, bass thumb.
Big bass of the peacock variety do have very strong jaws so you are best off taking your time when unhooking them.
Safe and Proper Bass Handling Techniques
Handling bass safely so they are healthy is really important and you should follow the same principles as you would for any other fish, even those with big teeth.
Here are the tips to follow to ensure your trophy fish lives to fight another day.
Keep Them Wet
Whether you are bass fishing or trout fishing, handling a small or large bass, every fish needs to be in the water in order to breathe.
When landing bass or any fish for that matter, keep them in the water so they can recover from the fight by breathing in oxygen from the water through their gills.
You should try to unhook them in the water, and even take a photo of them underwater so they never have to be exposed to air for too long.
If you want to take a photo of a big fish, or any fish to commemorate your catch or make a replica fish mount, try to hold a bass out of the water for no less than 5 seconds at a time.
Hold the fish in the water, get the camera ready, lift the fish, take the picture, and return it to the water.
When you handle bass properly their chances of surviving increase no end.
Are bass spines poisonous?
No, bass spines are not poisonous although they will deliver a sharp prick to your hand if one gets you.
It’s best to avoid getting pricked on a bass fishing trip as the combined effect of an open wound and fish bacteria from the slime coat can cause an infection.
If you do get pricked by a bass spine, clean the wound with disinfectant and you should be fine.
How To Unhook A Bass
Unhooking a bass is the same as unhooking any fish and here are the correct steps to follow.
- When the bass fish is close to the boat or shore, grand the fishing line and guide it to your hands
- Take a firm grip of the bass fish between the anal fin and the lower jaw with your hand supporting the fish’s body with the fish’s mouth facing you
- Gently remove the hook using pliers or your hand
- Release the fish
- If the hook is very deep in the mouth you can hold the fish’s jaw by the lower lip to open the bottom jaw and get better access to the hook
It’s always a lot safer for you and the fish is you are fishing with a single barbless hook as the hook comes straight out without any force.
Ways To Hold A Bass
There are quite a few bass holding techniques out there and if you catch bass every day then you have probably perfected one or two of them.
It’s incredibly important to hold bass correctly as the pressure caused by gravity can do damage to their jaws and spine. Here are the best methods to use.
The vertical hold involves holding bass vertically with their mouth facing the sky and their tail facing the water. This puts no strain on their body as they are in-line. To use this hold simply –
- Open the bass’ mouth and hold the bottom lip firmly with your thumb
- Use your other fingers to hold the outside of the bottom jaw
- Make sure the fish is sitting vertically
- Hold tight so you do not drop the fish
The horizontal hold is the best handling technique if you want to get a good photo. Start by doing the vertical hold and then support the bass from underneath ensuring no pressure is applied to it’s jaw or spine.
Don’t hold the bass too tight from underneath or you can put a lot of pressure on its internal organs.
The angled hold is another method used for photos but it’s the worst method when it comes to the safety of the bass.
To use this method, grab the lower lip and employ the vertical hold and then lift the bass up so it’s sitting horizontal but at an angle.
It’s safe to do with the small bass as the angle doesn’t damage the jaw but if you do this with big bass, their jaw may break under the weight of their body, so it’s best avoided altogether when fishing in my opinion.
Thanks very much for reading my article, I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful.
Many bass anglers will already know what we have covered above but if you didn’t know, you now have the knowledge of how to make sure any bass you catch swim away safely after a quick photoshoot.
Feel Free To Share!
Please share the article with any fishermen you think might benefit from learning this handy info and check out some of my other articles too. I cover everything from bass rigs to the best bass rods too.