Before you pull that hawg largemouth or trophy smallie out of the water, it’s important to know how to hold a bass. It’s a good idea for anyone, but it’s especially critical for anglers who practice catch-and-release, hoping that their catch will live to fight another day. A bass spends its whole natural life in water, with its weight supported by that medium. The second you take it out of the water, the fish is vulnerable. Improperly handling a bass while it’s out of the water can cause damage to its soft tissue and even break bones in its jaw. So, while knowing how to catch a bass is the fist step, knowing how to hold a bass is just as important, for the well being of the fish as well as the sustainability of the sport. There are three proper ways to hold a bass. So, let’s break them down one at a time.

The Vertical Bass Hold

photo of how to hold a bass
The vertical hold, demonstrated by the author, with his dad standing by. Shaye Baker

One of the most popular and safest ways to hold a bass is the vertical hold. Holding any black bass species straight up and down like this produces little to no risk to the fish and minimizes the pressure put on the jaw. With particularly large fish, a horizontal hold in which you use both hands to support the fish may work better. But we’ll get more into that in a moment.

How to hold a bass vertically is pretty straightforward. Just grip the lip of the bass firmly by putting your thumb into the fish’s mouth and pinching the lip against your fingers, allowing the bass’s weight to hang straight up and down. What you don’t want to do with this one-handed method is hold the fish at an angler, which puts pressure on its jaw. So, if you’re going to use the vertical hold, make sure it’s straight up and down.

The Horizontal Bass Hold

photo of the horizontal method
The horizontal hold, with one hand supporting the fish from underneath. Shaye Baker

As noted above, the horizontal hold is an especially good one for larger fish, because the use of a second hand ensures that the fish weight is supported. How to hold a bass horizontally is pretty simple, too. You’ll want start with a vertical hold and then transition to a horizontal hold. If possible, to use the water to support the weight of the bass as you make the transition. With your bass held firmly and vertically by the lip in one hand, slide the other hand under the fish’s belly, and then use that hand to lift the weight of the fish up into a horizontal position.

photo of bass
Start with a vertical hold, and if possible, transition to a horizontal hold while the bass’s weight is still supported by the water. Shaye Baker

Supporting the weight of larger bass like this greatly reduces the risk of causing damage to the jaw bone or the soft tissue of the bass’s mouth. You are disturbing the slime coat of the bass a little though with this method. This likely won’t cause much of an issue for the bass, but it is something you’ll want to avoid doing in excess when handling fish. So, it’s a good idea to reserve the horizontal hold for particularly large fish. Just make it quick. Get a good photo, and then slide the fish back into the water.

The Angled Bass Hold

photo of the angled hold
If you use an angled hold, be sure to support the bass’s weight with one hand. Shaye Baker

An angled hold is the least recommended hold for bass, as it poses the greatest risk to the fish’s jawbone and tissue. Small fish of less than 2 pounds can be held this way. But once bass exceed this weight range, it’s best not to hold them at any angle between the horizontal and vertical holds—unless you support the fish’s weight with your off hand, as shown in the photo above, which is really just a horizontal hold slightly askew. The main thing, as mentioned above, is to avoid holding a bass at an angle one-handed.

Do Bass Have Teeth? How to Thumb a Bass

One question that often comes up when discussing how to hold a bass is, do bass have teeth? The short answer is yes, bass do have teeth—lots of them in fact. But they’re not large and sharp like the teeth of a pike. They’re relatively small and are arranged in large rough patches along the lower and upper lips of bass.

The teeth of bass can certainly rub and tear your skin when holding a bass, resulting in what is known as bass thumb. The best way to avoid this is by firmly holding bass, with your thumb inside the lip and not pinching the lip itself. Holding the bass firmly will lessen the likelihood of it flopping around, and sliding your thumb past the lip of the fish will keep the teeth from rubbing against your skin if the fish does decide to thrash about.

Long-Arming Bass

There is one final way to hold a bass that takes some time to master and is called long-arming. This is the preferred technique for anglers wanting to show off their catch on social media. The key to this technique is learning how to hold a bass out away from your body and close to the camera, while also contorting your wrist to where your hand doesn’t appear to belong to Shrek or the Hulk.

You have to be careful here, as you run the risk of getting your hand close to the camera, providing a reference point for the size of the fish and potentially subjecting yourself to ridicule by friends who are able to discern that the 5-pounder you claim to have caught is actually a 2-pounder.

Though this technique can be used in conjunction with both the vertical and horizontal holds, and thus offers little to no risk to the fish’s well being, it can be detrimental to your street cred if poorly executed. Be advised, extreme cases have resulted in less-than-ideal nicknames and embarrassing memes.