Do Bass Have Teeth? A Guide to Handling Largemouth, Smallmouth and Other Species

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Like most freshwater fish species, Bass of all types do, in fact, have teeth. Most anglers may not realize this or may not have noticed. These tiny teeth are somewhat hard to see unless you are specifically looking for them.

When compared amongst each other, some bass species will display more proper-looking pointed teeth, and others will have a rough row of tiny grit-like spikes on their jaw. More similar to rough sandpaper than actual teeth, but the purpose is still the same. 

These sharp teeth are used to grip smaller prey fish, insects, crayfish, and other food items the bass eat. As the bass grips their prey, they then send it further back into the mouth to be processed by a second set of grinding teeth.

Do Bass Have Teeth? Yes, bass do have teeth. Both largemouth bass and smallmouth bass have small, inward-facing teeth on their lips. While sharp, these teeth are tiny and don’t pose any risk to anglers gripping a bass, although if you end up gripping a lot of bass this way you can end up with “bass thumb”- essentially just a minor abrasion caused by contact with the sandpaper link texture of the rows of teeth in the mouth of a bass.

Do Largemouth Bass have Teeth?

Largemouth Bass have a rough line of small grit-like teeth on their top and bottom jaws. Although these are sharp teeth at the microscopic level, most experienced anglers won’t receive any injuries from handling a largemouth bass. Their teeth are said to feel like sandpaper or a rough scrub brush, and if handled securely and properly, the teeth will do little to no damage to your thumb.

Do Smallmouth Bass Have Teeth?

Smallmouth Bass have teeth almost identical to those of the largemouth bass. You’ll find a very small but somewhat sharp grit-like dentition that the bass uses to catch its most common prey item of, crayfish. Smallmouth bass may cause some minor abrasions to your thumb if you do not hold them securely, as they can be more active than largemouth bass.

Do Peacock Bass Have Teeth?

Peacock Bass have noticeable teeth that angle inwards towards the throat of the fish. Their jaw strength is also much higher than other bass species. When handling Peacock Bass, most anglers use a glove or thumb protector to save their skin from being damaged by the teeth.

Do Striped Bass Have Teeth?

Striped Bass can reach sizes much larger than both largemouth and smallmouth bass, but the teeth are very similar. Sometimes said to be much sharper, the formation is still the same. The teeth of striped bass are made for holding prey, such as other fish, rather than ripping it apart.

Do Rock Bass Have Teeth?

Photo credit: Flickr user NYS DEC.

Rock Bass have extremely small teeth that can be hard to see. However, the fish is small in size and well-muscled. If handled improperly, or your grip is not tight enough, the fish can flop around, causing instant tears in the skin of your thumb while being held. Rock bass can cause the biggest risk to your thumb out of most bass species.

How to Handle Bass Safely

Unlike a shark, the teeth on bass are made for gripping prey more than tearing it apart. Their teeth feel more like rough sandpaper than actual spiked teeth, and that means holding a bass is relatively safe and straightforward. When holding your newly caught bass, placing your thumb inside the mouth is perfectly safe. You may receive some minor abrasions to your skin if the fish thrashes around, but their teeth are not large enough to cause serious harm to your thumb.

How to Grip a Bass Properly

If the idea of having a bass damage your thumb is not appealing, there are a variety of fishing gloves and thumb protectors you can use to avoid minor abrasions that anglers call bass thumb. These allow a full range of use of your hand while protecting your skin from the sharp and rough teeth of the bass you catch. For new or timid anglers, this may be a good choice to consider at the start until you get more comfortable with handling your catches.

“Bass Thumb” is a common term among successful bass anglers and simply refers to the minor abrasions one gets from the sandpaper-like dentition when “lipping” a bass. Some anglers say the more noticeable your ‘bass thumb,’ the more successful your fishing trip was.

How to Safely Hold a Bass

A largemouth freshwater bass caught on a small pond.

Bass of all types and sizes can be safely held by “lipping,” which involves placing your thumb into their mouth and holding the bottom jaw firmly (or using a Boga Grip or equivalent to avoid bass thumb). Bass can be safely held both vertically and horizontally (provided you support their weight with the other hand beneath their body).

Vertical Hold

Holding the bass vertically is the best way to prevent any injury to the fish’s jaw. The vertical hold is also an excellent way to hold the fish when removing the hook, as it offers you an unobstructed view of the mouth and upper gut.

Small-sized bass can be held at a slight angle by their bottom jaw as it will not place much weight on the jaw. Holding anything over a few pounds in total size in this manner, however, can severely damage or even dislocate the fish’s bottom jaw. Fishermen holding bass should remember for humane handling of fish for catch and release programs, always keep their bodies as vertical as possible.

Horizontal Hold

If you’re a bass angler holding the fish horizontally for a photo opportunity, always be sure to support the weight of the fish by placing your other hand under the tail base or anal fin area. This helps relieve some of the stress placed on the bottom jaw while still giving you a secure hold on the fish itself. The horizontal hold with a hand supporting the body is a perfectly fine way of holding bass.

Keep Them Wet

The less you touch a fish, the better it is for their overall well-being. Bass are covered in a slime coat that protects their scales from scrapes, cuts, and other injuries when swimming around plants and logs. By handling them properly, you preserve their slime coat and can release them, mostly unharmed, back into the lake to be caught again another day.

One way to avoid touching a bass and damaging its coating is to use a net, preferably one of those silicon rubber nets which are much kinder to fish than the ones made from a rope mesh.

How to Photograph Your Bass

By all means, get the traditional grip and grin photo if you want to, but using a net and keeping bass wet means you can often get some more creative photos with the fish partly in its element. Experiment with light, and you can get some really effective shots like this.

How to Kill a Bass for Eating Humanely

If you are taking a bass to eat, please be sure to kill them humanely by hitting them on the head with a priest or similar object or driving a knife swiftly through the spine.

Proper Fishing Line for Bass Fishing

Because of their teeth, selecting the right line is highly important. Always look for a line that is abrasion resistant and strong. Bass that land a lure aggressively and put up a good fight can quickly weaken or completely cut through a line that isn’t made to resist abrasive contact.

Since bass have both teeth and decent jaw strength, selecting the right type of fishing line can mean the difference in landing a trophy fish or losing it. Monofilament is extremely abrasion resistant and is an excellent line to consider when bass fishing. In fact, for both new and experienced anglers, it’s the line of choice for casual fishing.

Monofilament is affordable, strong, and has a slight stretch to help reel in every fish you catch. Additionally, it is easy to tie and holds its knot well. This attribute makes it an excellent choice for bass anglers learning how to attach lures or leaders properly.

Braided line, however, has an outstanding weight strength and is often used when fishing for big bass. Unfortunately, it is very susceptible to abrasion cuts and can quickly be damaged or completely severed by a good-sized bass.

As an alternative to the abrasion weakness, many anglers will use braided line for the length of their reel but will use a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader to prevent loss of lures as well as loss of a trophy fish. Monofilament is inexpensive, sturdy, and lightweight, making it an excellent choice for new and experienced anglers.

One of the biggest benefits of braided line when bass fishing is the overall strength. It can offer a much higher weight rating than other lines while still remaining small in overall diameter. This allows you to cast at further distances as well as into more wooded and brush-filled locations.

If monofilament is not your preference as a leader on a braided line, fluorocarbon is another great option. It offers ample amounts of abrasion resistance which makes it great for landing bass with sharper-than-average teeth. 

The Fluorocarbon line is also a highly respected line option to use with timid or elusive bass that reacts to visual stimuli in the water. A foreign object might scare away that trophy bass that has been eluding anglers for years, but if you use fluorocarbon line it will become almost invisible when submerged, leaving your lure to be the main attraction.


Do bass have teeth? Bass, like most freshwater fish, do have teeth. However, they are not teeth you will find on a shark, barracuda, or pike, for example. Instead, they are much smaller and rougher in texture. Likened to sandpaper, handling a bass with your bare hand will not leave you bleeding and in need of stitches.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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