Bass handling—its effects on recovery, feeding, and survival 

TrophyCatch Research Article


Anglers care about big bass, which means that they should also care about how they handle big bass. Especially in recent years, concerns have been voiced about how anglers handle bass during catch-and-release fishing. For example, check out the article How not to hold a hawg that explores pro angler Bernie Schultz’s personal evolution on holding bass. Requests to provide anglers with best handling practices encouraged Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and University of Florida biologists to develop a research project to examine this important issue. This experiment critically evaluated three common holding techniques used on bass and their effects on bass survival, feeding behavior and success, and recovery. Recovery time following handling was defined as when the bass regained balance, stopped adjusting its jaw, and resumed normal swimming. The three types of tested holds included bass 1) held by the jaw and body, with two-handed support, 2) held by the jaw using a lip gripping device, and 3) held by the jaw using only one hand and rotated to a horizontal position by leveraging the jaw.

The results showed that none of the three handling types caused any permanent damage, and there were no differences among handling types on bass feeding or survival. However, there were differences in how long it took the bass to recover based on how they were held. 

  • Bass held with the full support of two hands recovered fastest when released, in less than 10 seconds on average. 
  • Bass held by the jaw with one hand in a tilted, fully horizontal position recovered within 12 seconds on average but required major jaw adjustments in many cases for the fish to return to normal behavior. 
  • Bass held vertically by the jaw with a grip device recovered slowest, within 33 seconds on average, but with NO major jaw adjustments.

TrophyCatch receives occasional comments about how anglers are pictured holding their catch. We recommend a two-handed horizontal hold because it provides the greatest support of a trophy bass and the fastest recovery. In TrophyCatch, the vertical hold IS acceptable, but we still recommend that an angler minimize the time that a bass is supported by only one hand. We do not recommend a horizontally tilted one-hand hold by the jaw. This study documented increased sores, lesions, and inflamed gill and mouth parts on bass 30 days after handling; therefore, we also recommend wetting your hands and anything that the bass will touch to reduce damage to the fish and its protective slime coat. Across all holding types, bass weight decreased after handling. Earlier research showed that after a tournament or a catch-and-release angling event fish did not feed right away. This could have negative effects on the fish’s health over time. Thus, we should perform our due diligence to minimize the time spent handling bass after catching them and be sure they are cared for in the best way possible by: 

  1. Having a camera, scale, and measuring device ready in advance to document your catch. 
  2. Landing the fish quickly. 
  3. Securing the fish in a live well or beside the boat in a net while preparing to measure, weigh, and photograph it. This allows for easier documentation and minimizes the fish's time spent out of water. 
  4. Handling the fish minimally, only as necessary. Wet your hands and all surfaces the fish will come in contact with. 
  5. Releasing the fish carefully by holding it upright in the water until it regains balance and swims away. 

See our TrophyCare page for detailed information and recommendations about best handling practices for trophy bass. Being cognizant of these practices when catch-and-release fishing likely reduces mortality (both immediate and delayed) for the fish. 

The FWC thanks our citizen-scientist anglers and fellow conservationists for your questions and concerns which prompted this study! Our researches were pleased at how difficult it was to find photos of TrophyCatch anglers holding their catches in a horizontally tilted position using just one hand (the least-recommended hold). We are proud to see anglers taking good care of their trophy bass to increase their chances of surviving, reproducing, and being caught again! Further details of this bass handling study can be found at Bassmaster at What’s the proper way to hold a hawg? who helped FWC and University of Florida to publicize these results.

All photos above were used from submitted catches to the TrophyCatch program. Three types of bass handling techniques included in a FWC and UF study. Left to right: 1) Most recommended: Bass held by the jaw and body, two-handed support, 2) Recommended: bass held by the jaw with a lip gripping device, and 3) Not recommended: bass held by the jaw with only one hand and rotated to a horizontal position by leveraging the jaw. 

TrophyCatch is a citizen science conservation program for anglers who catch, document and release largemouth bass 8 pounds and heavier in Florida. The primary goals of the program are to promote freshwater fishing, engage anglers, collect catch data to help FWC with bass management, and work with industry partners to promote bass conservation. 

This study was also published as an article in North American Journal of Fisheries Management. To cite it: Skaggs, J., Y. Quintana, S. L. Shaw, M. S. Allen, N. A. Trippel, and M. Matthews. 2017. Effects of common angler handling techniques on Florida Largemouth Bass behavior, feeding, and survival. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 37:263–270. To link to this article:

The feeding study we referenced: Siepker, M. J., K. G. Ostrand, and D. H. Wahl. 2006. Journal of Fish Biology 69:783–793. To link to this article: