Yesterday, in my blog regarding catching your first fish of 2011, reader King Fisher called me out for lipping the smallmouth in this photo. He wrote:
_"I get so sick and upset with photos from so called "veteran fisherman?" showing that it is somehow cool to try to rip the bottom of fishes mouth back to their tails! Cracking jaws like that is a selfish pose and offers nothing to support our resources. Come on, lets show some" veteran" understanding about handling fish correctly."
I read every comment I receive whether positive or negative, and I thought this was a good opportunity to open the floor to the issue of lipping. I found it very surprising that so many readers gave King Fisher a negative comment review.
I'll start by saying that I'm a staunch believer in getting a fish unhooked, photographed/filmed as quickly as possible, and back in the water. With that said, if I catch a small fish (less than 2 pounds give or take) I'll lip and lift. I don't believe there is enough weight in the body to do any damage provided you work quickly. If we're talking about a heavier fish, I may still lip it, but support the tail or belly so is not to strain the jaw. In either case, I don't ever recall releasing a fish with a broken jaw, or a mouth permanently stuck open. There are much more unhealthy, terrible things done to fish on a regular basis. If you think about it, sticking a hook through a fish's face isn't exactly the most gentle practice, but it's what we love to do.
In my mind, lipping is the easiest way to calm a bass, crappie, or striper and ensure I don't end up with a treble hook in my hand or arm, or a fin ray in my palm, and it allows me to control the fish most effectively, thus speeding up the hook removal and release. The 10 or 20 seconds of a lip grip may not be the best thing for the fish, but it beats the catch flopping in the bottom of the boat or on the rocks, or having to play it longer to get a better grab angle without lipping. A net will always be the best thing, but there will always be times when we just don't have one.
There have been studies conducted on lipping tools like Boga Grips, such as this one published in the September 2008 issue of Fisheries Research. It concluded that Boga Grips can cause mouth and tongue damage. While there are countless opinions in articles and forums on why you should not thumb-lip fish, or why a horizontal hold is better than vertical if you do, I can't find one fact-based scientific study that points to negative effects of thumb lipping. I think it's fair to say that any harmful effects of the actual act of lipping are less serious than how the angler treats that fish once it's lipped.
The floor is now open.