Can Largemouth Bass Hurt You? Handling Bass Safely

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Fisherman shows off largemouth bass.

Bass have small, sharp teeth that feel like sandpaper. Continually grabbing the largemouth you catch by the inside of their mouth can cut your thumb pad. Also, the dorsal fin of a bass can cut your hand if you aren’t careful and handle the fish properly.

Largemouth bass are some of the ultimate predators in freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Their bucket mouths and teeth help kill their prey and swallow it whole, their dorsal fins fend off predators, and their strength is difficult to overcome. Their aggression and brute strength can even hurt humans.

Bass Teeth

Bass’ teeth are small and point toward the inside of their mouth. Both largemouth and smallmouth bass use their teeth to catch and hold their prey without letting it escape. While these teeth rarely puncture your skin, they can wear it down as the day progresses. They don’t have sharp teeth like saltwater fish but they are sharp enough for their needs. 

I always saw ‘bass thumb’ (where the skin on the thumb basically gets rug burn from fighting bass) as a sign of a great day on the water. The more fish I caught, the more ripped up my thumb became, the prouder I felt.

I started to grab the fish towards the bottom of my thumb instead of the pad above the top knuckle. When holding the fish with the base of my thumb, I have more control over it and don’t get ripped-up skin.

Regardless, bass teeth aren’t going to cause an excess amount of pain or blood. The less you handle the fish, the less your thumb is ripped. After fishing, make sure you clean your thumb to prevent any sort of infection. 

While fishing, wearing gloves, athletic tape, or bandaids will prevent your thumb from being destroyed. 

I’ll often use white athletic tape if I’m going for a multi-day bass fishing trip. I think I am tough, but my thumb becomes pretty raw after three days of handling bass.

Largemouth bass, just caught, held by angler.

Sharp Dorsal Fins

Like many freshwater fish, bass have sharp dorsal fins. These pointy fins can easily cut you when a bass thrashes. Make sure your hands are clear of the fins when you catch them. 

You can use your finger to smooth the dorsal fins by applying pressure on the front of the fin and pushing towards the back of the fish. This will cause the fin to retract, making it safer to handle.

The first few times I held bass as a child, I got stuck by one of the sharp points on the dorsal. 

After my third time, I learned my lesson and always kept my hands away from the dorsal fin. It felt like I was getting a hook stuck in my hand each time, so the pain made me learn my lesson. It doesn’t matter the size of the bass you hold; the dorsal fins can stab you. 

How to Avoid Getting Hurt By a Largemouth Bass

When you handle a bass, your goal should be to keep the bass and yourself safe. A quick and safe release will ensure the fish can live a healthy life, and you won’t leave the water with unnecessary wounds.

Landing the Fish

There are a few different ways to land bass, but the safest method is to use a net. Yes, boat flipping or landing it with your hand works fine, but new anglers can find a hook or dorsal fin stuck in their hand before they know it. 

I learned this lesson the hard way.

Removing the Hook

Using a net, you can scoop the fish and leave it in the water while removing the hook. Even very cold water temperatures are better for bass than keeping them out of the water. To remove the hook, grab the fish by the mouth (opposite side of the hook) and use your pliers to pry the hook out of the lip of the fish. 

Bass have firm lips, so removing it may take extra effort, but you’ll get it.

Handling the Fish

Once you remove the hook, you can safely handle the fish. If you want to snap a picture, use one hand to pinch the mouth of the fish and use the other to grab the belly of the fish. You can hold it horizontally and snap a picture.

Otherwise, pinching the fish by the mouth and holding it vertically works well.

Angler with largemouth bass up close.

Releasing the Fish

When you’re ready to release the fish, hold it by the belly and place it in the water. When it’s ready, it’ll swim off your hand back into the water. Holding it by the belly will prevent teeth or sharp dorsal fins from hurting you.


Largemouth bass are quite strong and can cause potential injuries. Watch out for their teeth and dorsal fins, and you’ll be okay. Bass can lash around in your hand, so be prepared to keep a tight grip. Dropping the fish can hurt them, and not holding tight enough can lead to a dorsal fin hurting your hands or arms.

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