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Holding Bass Right!
by Ralph Manns

Let's Hold and Release Bass RIGHT!

Last year, David Campbell, of TP&WD's Tyler Hatchery, announced anglers were breaking the jaws of lunker bass brought to him under the Lone Star Lunker Program. Since then, Honey Hole, In-Fisherman, and many other fishing magazines have reported his comments. By now, most bassers who occasionally read fishing magazines have heard about jaw damage. But this doesn't mean they understand it.

We, and I mean just about everybody who ever unhooked a bass or held one in one hand for a photograph, have been torquing the jaws of bass. A jaw, whether human or fish, is only meant to open so wide and no more. Forcing it wider does damage.

A few weeks ago I watched a popular television fisherman mention this jaw damage and claim it only applies to lunkers. He said lip-landing was the best way to land and handle bass up to six pounds. If this expert thinks carelessly lip-holding small bass is harmless, it's likely many other bassers think so too.

The TV angler was partially right. Lip-landing does the least damage to small bass, and is often harmless IF their jaws aren't distorted. Only the jaws of mishandled super-lunkers are likely to actually break and cause a bass to starve. But he was wrong if he thinks anglers should continue to hold smaller bass as we have in the past.

By using jaws as levers to rotate hanging bass away from vertical to a "more natural" horizontal position with one hand; TV anglers, outdoor writers, and average fishermen have unnecessarily strained jaw tissues. Tissue damage occurs long before bones break. It may take 13 or more pounds to break a bass jaw completely, but strain occurs anytime the jaw is distorted beyond the full-open position naturally used by bass. We don't need to carelessly give every released bass a "jaw ache."

My files and likely those of most TV fishermen, advertisers, and other outdoor writers contain many pictures that show improper handling techniques. As we all have a moral responsibility to display good handling, these old videos, slides, and prints are obsolete and should not be used, except to illustrate bad procedure. Anglers should no longer see distorted jaws and other bad examples.

We can do better. From now on, all published bass videos and photographs should show lip landings in which bass stay vertical, hanging from jaws that aren't forced wide open. If a bass is rotated any amount toward the horizontal, the lucky angler's other hand must support the weight of the body, not the bass' jaw.

It will take time and effort to learn better lipping and holding procedures. Anglers need to experiment with alternate grips. One technique that seems to help is to keep fingers straight while lip-landing and lip-holding bass. This grip doesn't feel as firm and secure as the old method and is awkward at first. But straight fingers don't push in under the jaw and force it open as much as the harmful grip with fingers rolled in toward the thumb.

Another option is to grip the bass' jaw from the side without a lure and hooks rather than from the front. This grip is also less apt to force a jaw too wide open.

At least one bass angler I've seen in a video didn't land bass by the lip at all. Instead, he put his hand under tired bass and lifted them straight up. They seemed docile and didn't flip away. However, he still had the problem of how to hold the fish while unhooking it. For unhooking, it's hard to beat a lip lock that doesn't force the jaw open too far.

Proper release techniques also don't include swishing a bass back and forth to "re-oxygenate" its gills. Gill filaments are attached at only one end and are meant to stream like a flag in a flow from only one direction. Backward current can bend, bruise, or break fragile gill filaments. In addition, too much forward movement can force excess water into the fish's stomach. Although fresh bass naturally jump and splash, fish that are tired and stressed from battle don't need more stress. Place them in the water rather than dropping or throwing them back. If a fish is healthy enough to swim slowly away, just let it go gently.

Let's hold and release bass right from now on.

Ralph Manns

Author Information.

Ralph Manns is a distinguished outdoor writer whose materials appear in popular publications such as In-Fisherman and other outdoor magazines. On the web, he is a contributor at the Bass Fishing Home Page.

Ralph is a strong proponent of conservation and proper care of the great bass fisheries and water resources that we must manage and protect as anglers. His articles always encourage proper handling of bass by anglers, in livewells, and during weigh-ins.

Email Ralph Manns at

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