Can You Eat Freshwater Bass?

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Freshwater bass fishing is one of the most exciting freshwater fishing experiences you can have, but can you eat freshwater bass? The bass are known to be aggressive predators that put up a great fight on the line. This is what attracts anglers to bass fishing and what makes bass such a great sport fish or game fish. But is sport fishing all that these bass are good for, or can you eat freshwater bass?

You can certainly eat freshwater bass, but it is not everyone’s favorite. The flavor varies from mild to fishy. The taste is often determined by how it’s prepared. In some waters, taking bass for the pan, especially large fish, is discouraged from preserving the fish populations for conservation and angling.

Bass is known by pretty much every fisherman as a great fish to catch, but does the usefulness of bass stop there? Why are the rules around fishing bass generally catch and release? Is it because bass are not good to eat, or are there other reasons for this general rule?

Can You Eat Freshwater Bass?

Like most other freshwater fish, freshwater bass are edible and are safe to eat. But a fish being edible and being good to eat are two quite different sides of the same coin. A fish may be edible in that you will not suffer any ill effects if you eat it, but it may have a particular taste that makes it unpleasant to eat.

In general, freshwater bass are not only edible but are also good to eat from a taste point of view. When we talk about eating bass, the most common bass species that come to mind are the largemouth bass and also the smallmouth bass, both members of the black bass family, which are the most popular angling bass.

What Does Freshwater Bass Taste Like?

There are, however, a few sub-species of freshwater bass, and not all of them have the same taste and flavor, even though all of them are good to eat.

Can You Eat Largemouth Bass?

These bass are part of the black bass family and one of the most popular freshwater sport angling fish. This fish has a slightly stronger, fishier flavor than some other bass species.

The larger bass specimens normally taste the fishiest, which is one reason that only the smaller specimens are usually kept for the pan. The flesh is white and firm without many bones.

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Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass?

This cousin of the largemouth is the second most popular freshwater angling fish. It is also good to eat, and the flesh does not have a very fishy taste.

Many people would describe the flavor of this fish as a bit bland, with no flavor that makes it distinguishable from other fish. The smallmouth bass would be the ideal candidate for people who do not like a fish with a very fishy flavor. They also have a sweeter taste than the largemouth bass. The smallmouth bass is also part of the black bass family.

Can You Eat Spotted Bass?

This is another fish in the black bass family. They are sometimes mistaken for largemouth bass, but their mouth is smaller than that of the largemouth bass.

Their coloration often leads them to be mistaken as smallmouth bass too. Many people consider the spotted bass to be the best tasting of all the bass fish. This bass has the typical firm, white, flaky flesh of most bass species.

Can You Eat Yellow Bass?

Yellow bass are not as popular from an angling point of view, but they are popular to eat. However, this fish has a distinctly fishy taste, which you either love or hate.

For some, yellow bass is an acquired taste, but it is commonly eaten in the range where this fish is found. These fish are often soaked in a marinade to try to tone down the fishy flavor.

Can You Eat White Bass?

White bass can have a fairly strong fishy flavor, which some people dislike, but others like. Often the taste varies depending on the preparation or cooking method.

White bass does have more oil than the other bass species, which gives the flesh a more buttery texture. The white bass has a mixture of white and red flesh.

The red meat is along the inner ribs, and most people discard this meat since it has the strongest fishy flavor in the white bass. The white flesh still has a distinctly fishy flavor, but it is much milder than the red meat.

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Cooking Freshwater Bass

As we have shown, it is possible to eat freshwater bass, but the flavor of all the species is not always to everyone’s liking. The flavor of the fish is often influenced by how the fish is prepared and cooked, which most often determines its acceptability to the palate.

There are many ways to prepare freshwater bass, but here is my all-time personal favorite:

  • Fillet the freshly caught bass
  • Fry it (1-2 min from each side) in garlic butter
  • Serve it sprinkled with lemon juice

This simple method of cooking freshly caught bass accentuates the great fresh taste of the bass that everybody loves it even kids

Should You Eat Freshwater Bass?

Now that you know that you can eat freshwater bass, the next question that we need to cover is whether you should eat freshwater bass.

In many fishing circles, the keeping of bass is a practice that is frowned upon. Fishermen who keep the occasional bass to eat will often not admit this to their fellow fishermen for fear of being perceived with a jaundiced eye.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that the keeping of bass is not encouraged and whether this is more folklore than a standing rule.

Reasons Not To Eat Freshwater Bass

There are varying reasons that the catch and keep of bass are not encouraged, and some of these reasons are conservation-oriented, others are sport-oriented, and some are taste-oriented.

From a conservation standpoint, you should never catch and keep bass in the spring. This is when the bass are either spawning or guarding their fry. Taking a fish before it spawns will reduce the population of the species in the water, and taking an adult fish away from protecting the fry will reduce the survival rate of the next generation.

Large specimens should also not be taken for conservation reasons. The large trophy bass are usually large breeding size animals, and you want to keep the population of the larger specimens at a higher number to promote breeding.

Another reason that the large specimens are not normally taken for the table is that they do not taste as good as the younger, smaller 3-pounder size fish.

The environment that the bass are living in will affect their taste if the water is muddy and stale, the fish can be quite smelly, and the flesh will not be pleasant to eat.

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From a sport angling standpoint, waters that host fishing competitions want to raise the numbers of big fish to entice anglers to the competition and to provide the “sport” part of the angling. A big bass puts up a much more challenging fight for the angler than what a smaller fish does.

Big fish also win competitions, which encourages anglers to participate in the competitions and go after the large fish to secure a competition win.

Authorities that manage the waters where these competitions are held will actively encourage catch and release fishing and only allow the keeping of smaller specimens of bass that are within a certain size range.

If you fish in waters where the bass population needs to be controlled because they are increasing too fast and to the detriment of other species, you may find that the keeping of bass may be less restrictive, and you will be allowed to keep larger-sized specimens.

However, most anglers that want to eat bass would be looking to keep the smaller fish for the pan as opposed to the larger ones, simply because the smaller ones generally taste better.

Can You Eat Freshwater Bass? | Conclusion

While it is most certainly possible to eat freshwater bass, some people do not enjoy the flavor of certain bass species. The species with a mild flavor are often enjoyed by people who don’t like fish with a strong fishy flavor.

This means that within the range of the freshwater bass types, there is a flavor of fish that would be suitable for most fish eaters. The flesh of most bass fish is firm, flaky and succulent, which makes it a fish that is good for pan-frying, deep frying with a seasoned batter, or even baking in the oven.

The reason why there is such a taboo around keeping and eating bass is mostly due to the management of the waters wanting to preserve the species for conservation reasons or for the big bass fishing tournaments, which attract a lot of revenue to the region.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>