Do Bass Have Teeth? How to Handle Bass Safely [2022 Update]

Updated on September 27, 2022 by

You’ve likely seen pictures of anglers proudly holding a bass up for the camera with a satisfied smile of accomplishment. However, it’s natural to wonder whether or not these fishermen and women are able to do this without injury. Bass do have teeth, but they are quite unlike most large ocean predators or freshwater species. 

When it comes to fishing, it’s important to know the risk you incur when handling a predatory fish species and knowing what to do to avoid injury. It’s also essential to understand how to hold the fish in a way that doesn’t harm or damage its ability to swim if you plan to release it. 

Doing your homework and researching everything you need to know about the species of fish you’re targeting should always be part of the planning process for any fishing trip. We’ve written this article to help explain a few things about bass and their teeth, as well as how to properly handle these fish after you’ve caught them. 

Do Bass Have Teeth?

Bass have teeth that are very small and might look like they aren’t a threat, but a closer look will reveal that these teeth are fairly sharp and can actually do a bit of damage if you’re not careful. 

Most fish are equipped with teeth to help them capture their prey and take care of a number of tasks they need to do in order to survive. Various ocean fish species have exceptionally sharp, pointed teeth while some others might have none. There are even some horrifying reports of anglers losing fingers and having their hands gashed open by the teeth of a large, dangerous predatory fish. 

The upper and lower lips of a bass are equipped with small, needle-like teeth that are used to pierce the flesh of their prey and allow them to hold their grasp and successfully devour their meal. 

Bass have a reddish-colored patch on their maxillary jaw (upper lip) that is covered with hundreds of these small pointy teeth. These teeth might vary in length depending on certain strains of bass and there is some debate among biologists and anglers as to which specific type of bass variation have the largest, sharpest teeth. 

The mandible or lower lip of a bass also has a row of teeth just inside the mouth. These patches of teeth are known as villiform teeth and curve slightly inward in order to help bass maintain their grip on prey after biting them. They often vary in length with the longest teeth being situated toward the very center of the upper lip while the right and left sides of the lower lip usually have longer ones as well. 

These teeth measure only a few millimeters in length, so they’re not actually long or large enough to really do much damage on a human hand or finger. Bass teeth are, however, sizable enough to puncture and tear the very outer layer of skin on your hands or fingers. The older a bass gets, the larger its teeth will grow, so you can usually expect the teeth of a trophy-sized bass to be a bit longer and sharper than smaller fish. 

Can You Get Hurt Holding a Bass?

If you’ve ever grabbed a bass by the mouth or put your finger into its mouth to feel the teeth, you will notice that the teeth have a very coarse, rough feel to them that is often described as being similar to sandpaper. 

These teeth are not big enough to do much damage to a person’s hands, but in some cases they can cut or tear open the skin enough to cause you quite a bit of discomfort. If the skin on your hands has been softened after being wet for a prolonged period, it’s usually more likely that a bass’ teeth might do some damage. 

Some larger bass can actually tear the skin to a much greater degree if you’re not careful when holding them. If you’re holding a bass with the common thumb and forefinger grip (which we’ll explain in greater detail later), keep a firm grip and be careful not to let the fish thrash around too much as this is the most common cause of any cuts or abrasions related to holding a bass. 

What is Bass Thumb?

Most anglers don’t always see this type of damage as a bad thing. If you’ve ever done much bass fishing, you’ve probably developed the proverbial “bass thumb” after a particularly successful day on the water. 

Bass thumb is a term that describes the slight tearing of your skin along the base of your thumb that’s caused by holding lots of fish in a way that most anglers commonly grip them. If you have a great day on the water and catch loads of fish, it’s acceptable to show off your bass thumb to your buddies as a mark of success. 

While this seemingly insignificant injury can be something that most anglers laugh about, it is always a good idea that you take the necessary steps needed to ensure that your thumb doesn’t get infected. 

Use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to sterilize the wound if the cuts are particularly deep. You can also add a little topical antibiotic cream or jelly to help it heal faster. It’s also smart to cover the area with a bandaid for a day or two in order to allow it to properly heal. 

How to Hold a Bass

It’s crucial that you take special care when handling a bass so you don’t cause it undue harm or stress, especially if you plan to release it. There are a few different ways that anglers typically hold bass and some are more commonly-accepted than others. 

Whichever method you use to hold the fish, be sure to never drop it on a hard surface as this can cause significant injury that often leads to death. This is because a fish’s body is designed to be in the water and it’s not equipped to handle hard, sudden impacts with solid surfaces. 

Vertical Grip

The most common way that anglers usually grip bass is with their thumb inside the mouth and their forefinger holding the fish’s lower lip. This is often referred to as a vertical grip or “lipping” the bass and by holding the fish at a slight angle, you can effectively paralyze it and prevent it from being able to move. 

It’s important to note that doing this is not recommended as it can actually cause the fish quite a bit of harm if you’re too forceful and put unnecessary pressure on the jaw. If you choose to use this method, be sure that you don’t overextend the fish’s lower jaw. You can make sure that you lessen the likelihood of injuring the bass by holding your hand above the fish’s mouth rather than below it. 

Horizontal Grip 

Biologists and most professional guides and anglers will agree that the best way to hold a bass is horizontally as this significantly lessens the amount of pressure and stress you’re putting on the fish’s spine and body. 

The horizontal grip involves using the same grip you use with the vertical as you should apply your thumb and forefinger on the lower lip to securely hold the head in place. Once you have a firm grasp on the lip, place your other hand under the fish near its tail and lift up the body so that it’s horizontally oriented. 

You’ll want to hold the fish’s body so that the tail is held in place and it’s not able to thrash around, but be sure that you aren’t gripping the fish too hard. The horizontal grip is absolutely essential for holding fish that are larger than 4 pounds as gripping them vertically will risk injuring their jaw due as it’s not able to adequately support the weight of its body. 

If you are worried about handling bass then consider getting a lip gripper.


The key to properly handling fish and avoiding injury to yourself and to the bass is being gentle and methodical throughout the whole process from unhooking the fish to releasing it back into the water. Be sure to carefully place the fish back into the water and make sure that it is not overly stressed or disoriented before fully letting it go. 

Never throw a fish into the water from any height and pay special attention to how the fish reacts to being placed back into the water. Some bass—especially larger ones—might require a bit of extra attention in order to effectively revive the fish so it can swim away. Don’t get in a hurry and keep in mind that handling a bass in the right way will result in the fish surviving and you or someone else being able to enjoy catching it once again in the future. 

Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.