Topping the list for number one in the US and worldwide, bass is a gaming fish that’s rewarding in exhilaration and relaxation. Lack of know-how in their handling after you’ve reeled them in will turn into a painful experience, in case you are one of those anglers that wonder, ‘do bass have teeth?’
Bass do have teeth, which point inward and are indeed very sharp. While holding onto bass to remove the hook or pose for that definitive vanity picture, watch that your thumb doesn’t get trapped in the fish’s mouth.
However, at least for saltwater or freshwater small and largemouth bass, the sharp bass teeth can scrape your skin and cut into your finger, a condition that anglers call ‘bass thumb.’ Disengaging your fingers may also cause damage to the mouth of the bass, and if yours is a catch release, it will compromise that fish’s feeding and survival.
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How Do Bass Teeth Look or Feel Like?
Bass has a row of inward-facing teeth used to grab onto its prey, forcing its back into its throat for consumption. They are not long and pointed compared to those of muskie and walleye. I can compare the texture of the teeth of many bass species to sandpaper, a rough grit surface that’s designed for grabbing struggling prey.
Another row of inner teeth are located inside the jaw, used to crush and decimate prey before swallowing it up. The outer teeth aren’t very large or strong, but they can do damage by holding into and letting the bass crush its prey with its robust secondary set.
You may miss seeing the inner teeth of bass or even feel them, yet they’re sharp enough to break through the skin. As an avid angler and especially one that handles bass as frequently as I do, you’ll notice a reddening on my thumb from the abrasive teeth known as ‘bass thumb.’
Although I wear my bass thumb as a badge of pride, some species have teeth with enough tenacity to cut through as you would get from northern pike or saugeye. Teeth of bass are primarily used in snatching up prey, holding on to it, and then forcing it into the crushing set before gobbling it up.
Can A Bass Bite You?
Bass is unlikely to bite you when you lift them out of the water. However, they can become agitated and hook on to your finger with their small, backward directed, and raspy teeth. A bass fish will start to become agitated after a few minutes, and as such, will twist and turn looking to escape, which can cause a friction wound in your hand.
If you are practicing catch and release, get the bass back into the water when it starts to wiggle. Handling bass the right way, you’ll remove your hook while holding the fish with your finger inside the lower lip, a tactic I call lipping.
Returning bass to its favored ecosystem is done gently, especially if you want to avoid a scratch on your skin. Whether boating, bank, or dock fishing, it’s the type of activity by which you catch bass that can pose a risk and not the fish themselves
Bass may be voracious feeders, but they aren’t the shark, so they’ll never come after your appendages. Getting them to bite on your bait can be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean you’re not vigilant, especially when handling them by their lip.
Teeth on Different Bass Species
Bass fish are seasoned predators, adept and savvy at concealment, ambush, and attacking unwary prey. There are different types of bass, and most notable is their mouth variations, each with its different feeding habits.
The various common types of bass that you’ll come across when fishing your lake, pond, river, or even sea will include;
Fresh and saltwater largemouth bass have a small row of raspy teeth that aren’t individually defined. The teeth of largemouth produce a sandpaper-like feel as they’re not designed to tear or cut prey into pieces but to grab it into their sizable mouths.
While they are voracious predators, largemouth bass uses secondary jaws in their throat to pulverize and then swallow their prey.
I wouldn’t recommend placing your finger inside the mouth of another fish like walleyes or northern pike, but it’s perfectly safe within the largemouth of bass. Grabbing the lower jaw of a largemouth is the most efficient way to haul it off the water and to extract the fishing hook.
Smallmouth teeth are similar to their largemouth cousins, small, inwardly pointed, sharp, and sandpaper-like to the touch. Teeth line the smallmouth’s upper and lower jaws for the purpose of holding onto prey, subduing it long enough to kill it.
This dental design is particularly essential when smallmouths are going after their favorite prey, crayfish, also known as yabbies, crawdads, or crawfish. These small crustaceans have a smooth but tough outer shell, and the rough smallmouth teeth are vital in grabbing them.
Another aggressive predator, striped bass, is massive, but their teeth are still small and not designed for tearing but holding. Despite the sizable striper, you can lip these fish with ease, but fishing grippers are better employed for larger powerful bass with their head-snapping action.
The diet of striped bass consists of shad, American eels, and alewives, which are slick and fast, requiring the sandpaper teeth for holding onto them. Stripers have the same size of mouth cavity as smallmouth bass, and they’ll gobble up the same menu, including tadpoles, minnows, and other small critters.
More closely related to bluegill, rock bass behaves more like smallmouth bass and will compete with them for your lure. Rocks are very aggressive predators, and their teeth are for grabbing hold of the shrimp, minnows, shiners, and crayfish they prefer.
Many bass anglers view rock bass as a nuisance species, seeing as they hang out in the vicinity of rocky patches and boulders where smallmouths hunt. This fish is notorious for stealing bait from right under the smallmouth, but you can reel in and lip rock bass due to their small teeth.
Peacocks are known for getting away with your lure, their powerful jaws, and they also have rows of small raspy teeth. You’ll require a significant amount of skill and patience to reel one peacock bass, and you can put your finger in their mouth when lipping them without getting nibbled.
How to Hold and Handle a Bass
If you consider yourself a bass angler of note, you’ll know that handling bass isn’t all that easy. It could be you’ve perfected a technique that works well for you but are there better techniques that allow for the optimal survival of your fish?
Preventing harm in a catch and release situation is vital if your pond, river, sea bass, or lake bass is to have a chance until next season.
Holding bass requires that you don’t handle it at too much of an angle, and possibly anything less than 10 degrees is sufficient. This is due to alleviating pressure on its jaw when it’s above water, which, if injured, will affect its feeding and preying after you’ve released it.
The three most common bass handling methods that anglers employ to the prized catches include;
The Vertical Hold
The safest and most common way to hold your bass is vertically, and that means tail pointing down and mouth to the sky. This position relieves pressure on your fish’s jaw from its body weight and is also easier to work the hook out of its mouth when facing upwards.
Place your thumb inside the mouth and firmly hold the lower lip when using the vertical hold on your bass. Gripping your fish vertically, bottom lipping, and supporting its mouth with the rest of your hand allows you to keep a firm grasp to avoid dropping the bass.
The Horizontal Hold
This is how anglers that want to capture the visual appeal of their prized catches hold bass for that opportune picture. There’s no reason not to hold bass horizontally if you know how, but you must grip the bottom lip with your thumb while resting your fingers outside its mouth for better support.
Your other hand will be holding the bass just behind its anal fin, keeping its mouth a little angled upwards from the body to minimize pressure on its jaw.
The Angled Hold
Consider using the angled hold for smaller bass; as with larger species, there’s a risk that it could damage their jaw. In any circumstance, the size of your bass will determine how far your angle will be, but the fish’s head is always above or greater than 10° from its body.
How Do You Not Hold A Bass?
You and I have so far ascertained that handling bass isn’t necessarily hazardous to you, but what about the fish? Holding bass the wrong way can cause damage to its mouth, jaws, or even fins, which, when returned in the water, is ultimately fatal.
For the safety of the fish, when handling bass, you should not;
Touch Its Gills
Gills are exceptionally delicate, and holding your bass fish by these appendages can damage their sensitive flaps and filters. There’s no reason you’d touch a bass’s gills unless you’re checking for damage or if you’re cleaning it for table fare.
Squeeze the Fish
When holding your bass fish, avoid squeezing its body as not only can you damage internal organs. I wouldn’t recommend rough handling either, such as swiping across the bass’s body, as you’ll be wiping off its protective moisture-filled slime film.
Squeezing or tightly holding bass fish causes them discomfort, to say the least, causing them to wiggle violently, which may lead to unintended injury.
Drop the Bass
When you reel in your bass, it’ll wiggle around as you try to remove the hook, and you must hold it carefully so that it doesn’t fall. Dropping bass to the dry ground, or say, the deck of your boat, can cause injury to fins, gills, or remove the protective slime.
Removal of the moisture film or the slightest injury on your bass fish may lead to infection and untimely death. I recommend unhooking bass over water so that in case it slips, you’ll only have lost the picture-perfect photo moment but saved the fish.
Use a Rag or Cloth to Hold a Bass
Many beginner anglers get rags or pieces of cloth to hold the bass to avoid the exterior slime that fish employ as a protective and oxygen retaining mask. That’s an error that will lead to that fish’s death, as this removes the slime exposing the bass to bacteria and parasites.
Unless you don’t plan on releasing your catch, don’t use anything but your hands or fish grippers to handle your bass.
Hold Bass Out Of the Water for Long
Catch and release bass should not be kept out of the water for more than half a minute because the fish will suffer stress, which can be fatal. Flopping and wiggling fish are also more likely to slip your grasp and fall to the ground.
Although bass can stay alive for a few minutes out of the water, avoid leaving them too long if you plan to get them back into their preferred environment safely.
Land Bass on Rocks
When you reel bass to the surface of the water, they’ll thrash like crazy, and I recommend you don’t land them near or on rocks. Not only can your setup get hung up in rocks, but your bass fish will get injured, most likely losing its protective slime first.
Land bass and any other fish in deep water, far from any rocks that can cause it injury is appropriate for catch and release, that’s unless you’re planning on having it for dinner.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Bass Attack Humans?
Bass has no reason to attack humans, and even though they’re predators, it’s you and I that they fear. Any bite from bass would be due to curiosity, a territorial tactic, or mere meanness.
However, you can find yourself accidentally injured by your bass catch as a result of a reeled in but ferocious fighter who happens to draw a little blood.
To guarantee that they can handle an assortment of prey, bass has some finely crafted teeth that enable them to keep hold and gobble up food. Bass are predators that prefer to lurk or sit and wait for the unsuspecting crustacean to waddle by before pouncing.
Anything from insects, frogs, minnows, shad, cray, and smaller fish, including other basses, are the favored prey to dig their teeth into.