By Dr. Hal Schramm

You fish hard. You are especially interested in catching big bass. Here’s a quiz:

When you catch a quality bass, you:

A. Like show it to your fishing partner,

B. Like to take a picture of it,

C. Show it to spectators or fellow competitors at a tournament.

If you answered “yes” to one or more of the questions, you are a normal, proud bass angler who values your catch. How anglers proudly display their catch has drawn a lot of heat lately.

A study at the University of Florida evaluated three ways to hold a largemouth bass. The fish used in the study ranged from 2.3 to 8.4 pounds and averaged 5 pounds. Fish were held for 1 minute either vertically using a lip-grip device like a Boga Grip (grip treatment), nearly horizontally by deflecting the lower jaw to elevate the body (horizontal treatment), or by the lower jaw with the other hand supporting the body (body-support treatment). The fish were then released into a large tank

The average recovery time--the time to regain normal equilibrium, resume normal swimming, and cease jaw adjustments-- was longest (33 seconds) for the grip treatment, intermediate for the horizontal treatment (12 seconds), and fastest for the body-support l treatment (7 seconds).

All fish were released into a tank after holding and offered forage fish. All groups of fish had similar feeding attempts and feeding success in the tank after being held.

Bottom line of the Florida study: hold the bass any way you want. Science has spoken.

Results like that open the door for me to take off my lab coat, put on my fishing shirt, and throw a few thoughts your way as a fellow angler.

Big bass are a valuable commodity. Take good care of them. Black bass have been around for 25 million years. They are adapted to a life where much of their body is supported by water.  Six-plus pounds is a lot of weight to be supported by a jaw, especially when used to elevate the body to nearly horizontal.  I recommend:

  • Holding any bass you consider large vertically by hand when unhooking, then using two hands to display the fish.
  • Minimizing devices that poke a hole in the tissue behind the lower jaw. A tightly-sealed mouth cavity is necessary for a bass to pump water across its gills.
  • Wetting your hands before handling a bass, especially when holding the body, to not remove the protective mucus covering.