Holding Bass Right!
Let's Hold and Release Bass RIGHT!
by Ralph Manns
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
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 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 email@example.com