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Can You Eat Bass? Cooking Tips, Tricks and Recipes

Bass are an extremely popular fish for both new and experienced anglers to target. They can give you a great fight, and are eager enough to take most bait and lure types. If you’re fishing with the kids over the weekend, you can definitely get a great result when it comes to catching these fish. Largemouth Bass is commonly loved as a sport fish for catch and release, but if you want to know, the answer to the question “Can you Eat Bass” is yes!. We’ll cover the best ways to eat and cook bass in this article.

Can You Eat Largemouth Bass?

You can certainly get the best of both worlds by practicing catch and release with most of your largemouth bass, while still keeping one or two small fish for grilling or frying.

In addition, with bass fishing, it’s not uncommon to hook a fish in a less than optimal location such as the eye or gill. These fish are a perfect example of fish you can keep for eating. Returning them to the water with their injuries may lead them to die and go to waste, but by keeping them for yourself, you can enjoy the unique flavor that largemouth bass offer.

What Does Largemouth Bass Taste Like and is it Healthy?

Frying with some lemon or lemon pepper is a popular way to cook largemouth bass

Largemouth bass are considered a pillar species of fish, which means their environment and diet will be reflected in their flavors. If you’re fishing from a clear and cool river with excellent water flow and aeration, the bass will taste mild and delicate with a highly desirable earthy flavor. You won’t notice an overly ‘fishy’ flavor in this case, and most people who are new to eating bass will much prefer this fish over one that lives in less pristine water.

For largemouth bass that reside in swamps, bogs, poorly managed ponds, or stagnant lakes, you will notice a very distinct and sometimes off putting strong flavor. The odor may also be very ‘fishy’ and strong, and can be very unappealing to some lovers of fish meat. Water that is not moving, poorly aerated or full of tannins from decaying wood and other vegetation will produce bass that carry those same strong flavors.

What Size Bass Should You Eat?

Each state and province in North America will likely have their own set rules for what size bass is acceptable to keep for eating. From a legal standpoint, you should always go with the recommended release and keep sizes as these are put in place to help sustain the bass population to ensure there are plenty of breeding age and trophy sized fish remaining.

When it comes to eating bass, the best size is around 1-2 pounds in weight. While these are still somewhat small fish overall, they are large enough to provide an adequate fish fillet or two. They’re also smaller than breeder size fish which helps keep their flavor pure and less “aged” as some people describe it.

How to Cook Largemouth Bass

Can You Eat Bass? image of a bass being fried in a fry pan to illustrate the possibilities of cooking this fish

There are a huge number of ways to cook largemouth bass and cooking bass is relatively easy. Most people will bread their fillets and deep fry or air fry them for quick and delicious results. You may prefer to bake your bass instead, or simply add a bit of lemon and sage instead of a breaded coating and fry in olive oil or a non stick cooking spray. Bass also works well in seafood dishes such as gumbo or as a sauteed fillet or half-cut.

Bass meat is quite healthy, when the fish is sourced from clean water sources. It includes a high amount of protein while remaining low in fat. It’s also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, as are most fish, which can help develop and maintain neurological health. Another benefit to bass is that it can be cooked whole or filleted out. After proper cleaning, you can debone the fish for thick and flavorful boneless fillets, or work with its unique texture and fit it into a variety of different meals.

Grilling is the best option for preparing your fish near the source it was caught. Since you can use a campfire or portable grill, you can enjoy the taste of a freshly caught bass in the perfect outdoor setting it was found.

After the fish has been properly cleaned, you can use a spice mix or seasonings of your choice to coat the meat. Allow it to grill over a medium to high heat for 5 minutes per side, or until it looks good to you. Lemon zest, parsley, onions and peppers can also make a great seasoning addition to grilled bass you place in a foil pouch.

Can Pregnant Women Eat Bass?

Nutrition is extremely important when a woman is eating for two or more. A woman may have many new and unique needs for different nutrients to sustain her and her growing baby. Some doctors may also suggest a special diet, and mention the inclusion or avoidance of fish meat. Regardless of what you read below, always go with the recommendations of your doctor first and foremost.

Having said that, it is generally accepted practice that pregnant women avoid eating bass. The reason for this is due to the potential amount of mercury the fish can have in its body. Both black bass and striped bass are well known carriers of mercury, and can lead to mercury poisoning to the mother and developing baby if eaten in larger than average amounts. Most women will choose not to eat bass at all throughout their pregnancy and while breastfeeding to ensure no possible consumption of mercury.

Fish of all types are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, and these acids are directly related to neurological health and development in the baby and growing child. The beneficial effects of eating fish during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can outweigh the risks, but there are many other fish varieties that can be considered less risk than bass. Salmon, shellfish, flounder and most farm raised fish are safe and suitable substitutes. 

Cook or Catch and Release?

Many anglers view most bass species as a trophy fish more than a food fish and choose to release largemouth bass. Their opinion is that all bass should remain as a catch and release fish rather than choosing to eat largemouth bass.

More and more anglers are starting to change their opinion, however, and are realizing the benefits to keeping the smaller population of fish available. By removing a healthy number of smaller and more aggressive fish, you are helping to ensure the larger trophy sized fish are able to find food and establish their genes through breeding.

While you might not be fully on board with eating largemouth bass, you can surely see the benefit to removing some from the population. In fact, even a wide number of fishery experts have suggested anglers keep some of their 1-2 pound bass so that the larger individuals can continue to grow and thrive as a trophy fish.

What About Smallmouth Bass and Other Bass Species?

Freshwater bass of all species will taste similar overall, though a good amount of their flavor will depend on where they are caught. Smallmouth bass and Largemouth bass are almost indistinguishable in flavor if caught in the same type of water. 

The only downside to smallmouth bass  is their bone structure can be a bit more difficult to prepare when it comes to getting a good fillet. However, even taking this into account, when asked a large number of fishermen will say they prefer eating smallmouth bass over largemouth bass due to the firmer texture of the meat.

Peacock bass and other freshwater bass species can also be eaten. Check here for some other recipes to cook freshwater bass.

Can You Eat Freshwater Bass Raw?

At the most basic level, while it is possible to eat freshwater bass raw, it is very rarely ever recommended. In fact, there are a wide number of reasons why you would not want to eat bass of any kind raw. Since they are not as fatty as some other fish, their flavor will not develop well when served raw such as in sushi or sashimi. The fish used in sushi is much fatter and has a stronger flavor than freshwater bass.

Parasites are another very real concern when it comes to eating freshwater bass raw. When compared to their saltwater counterparts, freshwater fish have a much higher parasite load which can be ingested and affect you directly. When cooked, these parasites are rendered ineffective, but while raw they can just as easily arm you as they are harming the fish.

Some of the most common parasites in freshwater fish include lungworm or lung fluke, tapeworm, and a huge number of general bacterial infestations that can cause gastrointestinal upset as well as symptoms similar to food poisoning. Saltwater fish that are commonly used in sushi recipes generally contain much less parasites as salt is a natural cleaning agent.

If you insist on eating your freshwater bass raw, it is highly recommended that you freeze the fish first. Ensure it reaches at least -4 degrees Fahrenheit for one week or longer to ensure all internal parasites and bacterial risks are eliminated. While this may not remove 100% of the potential parasitic risks, it can definitely help. If you want to be extremely safe, just cook your freshwater catch before consuming it.

Can you eat bass: Final Thoughts

Whether you are an experienced angler or someone just wanting to put a fish on the table now and then, eating freshwater bass can be a great choice. Not only are the fish very fun to catch, but they can quickly turn into your favorite meal. They’re easy to prepare, easy to cook, and can freeze well for long periods of time without losing their meat texture and flavor qualities.

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