Do Bass Have Teeth? How to Safely Handle Bass – Freshwater Fishing Advice

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Bass are the most popular gamefish in North America and one of the most sought after species globally. A lot of anglers are curious to know if bass have teeth. It’s a valid question since countless images of fishermen holding bass by their lower lip can be found but it is worth exploring in detail.

Do Bass Have Teeth? Bass do have a small row of teeth which it is uses to grab onto prey and force it back into its throat where it can be killed. The teeth of various species of bass can be compared to the feeling of rough-grit sandpaper

. Bass teeth are not designed to kill and tear but actually for the purpose of holding onto a struggling prey item. Striped bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass, black bass, and smallmouth bass are hunt different food but their jaws and teeth are designed for the same general hunting purpose.

In this article, we will discuss the type of teeth bass have, how they use them to capture and kill prey, and how to properly hold them to avoid the dreaded “bass thumb” condition as well as to minimize damage to the bass itself.

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Do Bass have Teeth

Do Largemouth Bass have Teeth?

Largemouth bass have tiny teeth that are lined up in such a way as to appear more like a raspy row than actual individual teeth. Even though not as sharp or dangerous as real teeth you’d find in a pike or walleye, these bass teeth produce a feel similar to very rough grit sandpaper.

Bass are voracious predators but they do not tear or cut their prey in pieces like pike will, instead they use their huge mouths and powerful crushing throat secondary jaws to pulverize their prey

While I would never recommend putting your hand inside the mouth of a northern pike, it is perfectly safe to finger around inside a bass’s mouth. In fact, grabbing onto a bass’s lower jaw or “lipping” a bass, is the most practical way to lift a bass out of the water and extract a hook.

Do Smallmouth Bass have Teeth?

Much like largemouth bass, smallmouth bass also have very fine teeth that feel much like sandpaper to the touch.

The teeth of smallmouth bass are not designed to tear apart flesh, but instead to grasp onto struggling prey and force the prey into its throat where it can be crushed by a set of secondary “jaws”. The outer teeth lining the lower and upper jaws are not designed to kill, merely hold.

This is especially important when handling one of their preferred prey items, crayfish. Crayfish, also called crawfish, crawdads, or yabbies, are small freshwater lobsters essentially with a tough, smooth shell. Smallmouth bass need these rough teeth to grasp onto the slick, hard shell of crayfish to subdue them long enough to kill them.

Smallmouth bass have much smaller mouth parts than largemouth bass so the prey items and sizes they can grab onto are much more limited. Make no mistake about it, smallmouth bass are still very aggressive predators.

I wrote a complete article on the teeth of smallmouth bass. Check it out to learn how to properly handle bass, how they use their teeth, and how their teeth help them kill prey.

Selecting the right gear and bait for bass is vital. For a comprehensive breakdown of the best rods, reels, electronics, line, and baits for bass fishing, check out my recommended bass fishing gear list. Always be the most prepared and equipped angler on the water.

Do Striped Bass have Teeth

Striped bass are very aggressive predators that can attain huge sizes. Like other freshwater species of bass, striped bass possess small teeth that are designed for grabbing and holding rather than tearing.

Despite their large size, fishermen can still lip a striped bass with relative ease. That said, large striped bass can be immensely strong and powerful.

It can be a bit dangerous to hold your thumb inside a 30-pound striped bass’s mouth as it twists its head. For that reason, I actually recommend a pair of good fish grippers over using your thumb.

This pair of fish grippers arguably the gold-standard and not only safely grips big fish to prevent injury, but it also weighs the fish for you with a very accurate scale.

Striped bass have an extensive diet but feed mostly on alewives, shad, and American eels. These fast, sometimes slick prey are tough to grab onto so striped bass need their small sandpaper teeth to hold onto them.

Do Rock Bass have Teeth

Rock bass are more closely related to bluegills than true bass but they behave much the same as a smallmouth bass would. They can be very aggressive predators and will often compete with and beat smallmouth bass to your lure.

Just like bass and bluegill, rock bass do have tiny teeth that are designed for holding onto rather than ripping. They use these tiny teeth to grab onto freshwater shrimp, small crayfish, and fish like minnows and shiners.

Rock bass are often found in the vicinity of boulders and rocky patches of water where smallmouth bass often hunt. As such, they are viewed as a nuisance species by a lot of bass fishermen since rock bass are very aggressive and will steal bait right from smallmouth bass.

You can lip a rock bass because their teeth are so small, but the size of their mouth being as small as it is can make this difficult for us fat-fingered guys.

How do Bass Kill Their Prey

Bass have a number of ways they can kill their prey and it all involves the strike. The strike is where everything happens at. The force of the impact, the clamping down by the primary teeth, the crushing by the secondary teeth and throat action ultimately do the prey in.

Each of these factors can kill the prey outright. When a bass readies itself for a strike on a prey item like a frog, it first approaches with its mouth slightly open while flaring its gills.

This action creates a negative pressure “vacuum” inside the mouth than violently sucks the prey into the bass’s mouth. If you watch a slow-motion action shot of a bass striking a lure, the lure literally gets drawn into the bass’s mouth.

Once the frog is inside the jaws of the bass, the gills and mouth shut which equalizes the pressure and prevents the prey from escaping back out the way it came.

The tiny teeth lining the top and bottom jaws are inwards facing preventing prey from moving any direction but back towards the throat.

A set of secondary teeth further back in the mouth crushes the prey killing it before it enters the throat for swallowing.

The process can occur in less than 2 seconds but is plenty to kill most prey items. Sometimes, the strike can be some violent, the prey is stunned and mortally wounded from the impact alone.

What is Bass Thumb?

“Bass thumb” is essentially when a bass angler catches so many fish in a day, that his or her thumb pad gets tender and scratched up by the teeth of the lower jaw from lipping so many bass. It’s basically the pain of success in bass fishing. You won’t develop bass thumb from a mere 1 or 2 bass unless you are gripping them very loosely while they are thrashing.

“Bass thumb” is the product of many bass being caught and handled. While this condition may seem like little more than a laughable inconvenience, and usually it is, this abraded skin on your thumb can actually become infected which can lead to a more serious issue.

While this is rare, it is fairly common in people who catch a large number of catfish and grip them in a similar manner.

How to Lip a Bass

Lipping a bass is the easiest and most efficient way to pull a bass from the water, to pull out the hook, handle it, and release it back into the wild. That said, there is a way to properly lip a bass to avoid “bass thumb”.

The trick is to ram your thumb as far into the bass’s mouth as it will go. You want the bass’s lower jaw to hit the webbing of your thumb. Then clamp own firmly.

Bass Thumb occurs usually when fishermen grip the jaw with the upper 2/3 of their thumb rather than the lower 1/3 near the base. By holding firmly, you will prevent the bass from thrashing and sliding its teeth side-to-side along your thumb.

How to Properly Hold a Bass

Despite what you see on TV, do not hold a large bass vertically or even worse, at an angle by its lower jaw. Small bass lacking in weight, can handle this kind of abuse with little or no ill effects.

A big bass does not have the jaw structure and strength to handle its full weight pulling against it downward at an angle. Holding big bass like you see the “pros” doing it can significantly hurt a bass. It is fine to lip a big bass but please don’t support its full weight with your jaw grip alone.

Instead, use your free hand to grip and support the bass’s weight which will take the pressure off its jaws. Refer to the large image at the top of this article for the proper way. The smaller image to the right is fine as long as the bass is hanging down vertically. The issue comes when the body of the bass hangs down at an angle from the jaw.

Best Fishing Line for Bass Teeth

The jaws of bass can wear through a fishing line in time. A single bass won’t wear through most good fishing lines alone but the combined effect of countless bass eventually could cause the fishing line to fail inches from your bait.

Monofilament is extremely abrasion-resistant. Braid, despite its strength and casting ability, is very poor in terms of abrasion resistance. A few bass can easily wear through braided fishing line. You don’t want your line to fail when you have the biggest bass of the year on.

As I said, braided fishing line has so many advantages for bass fishing that it can difficult to not use it. So how can you counter the poor abrasion-resistance of braid? A lot of serious bass anglers actually with use a leader made of strong monofilament fishing line which they’ll tie directly to their lures.

The leader can be anywhere from 4 to 12 inches. This simple leader of mono can prevent most of the abrasion caused by both the teeth of bass as well as vegetation, rocks, and sticks the line will be drug through.

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