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Can You Eat Bass? (What Does Bass Taste Like?)

The popularity of bass amongst anglers is due to more than the thrill of the catch. Delicious, readily available, and an absolute blast to have on the end of your line, the bass is one of the most well-rounded sports fish in the water. 

Many novice anglers may posit the question, “are bass good to eat?” The simple answer is yes, but there is a multitude of factors as to which bass you should eat and how to clean and prepare the bass for a delicious and nutritious meal.

In this article, we will cover why bass are good to eat, when and where you should eat them, and several ways to prepare them.

can you eat bass
Pan fried filets of sea bass on a bed of buttered baby spinach with a beurre blanc sauce and parsley new potatoes. Source

Nutrition

Not only are bass delicious to eat, but they’re also incredibly nutritious sources of protein. An average 62 g fillet is low in both fat and calories but contains about 15 g of protein.

Bass is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps reduce the chances of heart disease and lower both blood pressure and cholesterol.

Dangers

PCB or polychlorinated biphenyls are chemicals that are historically dangerous that have been detected throughout many waterways in the United States.

There’s great concern about the levels of this within fish populations, and it’s recommended that you monitor your intake to prevent consuming vast quantities of this.

Constant consumption of fish risks mercury poisoning. Consuming bass as your main source of protein risks elevated mercury levels which can be dangerous to pregnant women and immuno-suppressed individuals.

Pregnant women are advised by the FDA to consume no more than six 6-ounce portions of bass per month during pregnancy. 

Consuming larger fish such as trophy bass runs the risk of increased levels of mercury. This is due to the fact that the larger of the species often consume smaller fish with already significant mercury levels and then ingest the levels and retain it themselves.

An additional concern that has been raised for pregnant women is listeria. This food poisoning is significantly higher for pregnant women and can be very dangerous. Listeria can infect a fetus and inflict long-term damage on it despite the mother recovering from its symptoms. 

How to Avoid Food Poisoning

Proper storage and maintaining the bass’ freshness is essential in combating food poisoning. To preserve the integrity of the fish’s flesh, wrap the meat in wax paper, aluminum foil, or some sort of plastic and place it in a refrigerated storage location.

For short-duration storage, bags of ice from local gas stations or supermarkets can maintain the fish’s integrity in an ice chest for a limited time.

Three rules of thumb when catching and eating your bass

  • Within six hours of death, store the fillets in a Ziploc and refrigerate
  • Refrigerate no longer than three days
  • Rinse fillets before placing them in bags with clean water.

What Does Bass Taste Like?

For the uninitiated and those trying bass for the first time, one of the first questions out of their mouth is, “does bass taste good?”

Yes, but much of this depends upon the preparation and species.

Largemouth bass makes up some of the best trophy sport fish but are not the best eating out of the bass family. Their solid flesh and the strong fishy flavor are hard to get over for some.

Smallmouth bass, on the other hand, is much more enticing for those who cannot stomach the fishy flavor of the largemouth. Smaller, sweeter, but just as feisty, the smallmouth bass it’s a mild and easily palatable fish that is perfectly introduced to anyone due to the seafood side of cuisine.

Spotted bass are quite different than largemouth bass, having both a firm and finer texture. Though the slightly fishy flavor is mild, these fish taste the best when caught in a clean, fast-moving river. Quite possibly the best launching point when introducing the bass family to the dinner table, spotted bass are easily grilled or fried. 

Seabass completely negate the fishy flavor associated with bass, having a rich, solid textured flesh that is fantastic for those new to consuming seafood. Sweet and mild, its flesh has been compared in flavor to grouper and swordfish. 

Where to Fish Edible Bass

Bass can be found in a variety of environments, from brackish marshes to freshwater, spring-fed ponds. Capable of living in incredibly polluted environments, not every body of water holds bass that are edible.

Aside from mercury and PCB, anglers should watch out for the three P’s.

  • Pesticides
  • Parasites
  • Pollutants

Pesticides

When it comes to pesticides, much of a basses diet consists of insects. Particularly with largemouth bass, a struggling or dying insect on the top of the water is a prime target for a glorious out-of-the-water strike.

Unfortunately, when pesticides are used on these insects, bass will begin to consume concentrated quantities throughout their diet.

Similar to bass consuming smaller fish with levels of mercury, the chemicals within a pesticide will begin to accumulate inside of a bass, potentially to levels that are deadly to humans.

Parasites

There will always be parasites and microbial organisms or bacteria within waterways that are not filtered. There are two rules of thumb when it comes to parasites/bacteria. Bigger isn’t better, and what you see is what you get. 

In other words, bigger fish often have had more time to be exposed to parasites and pollutants. Their flesh is usually tougher and more prone to having parasitic organisms somewhere on their body.

The other rule of thumb is to look over the entire body of the fish. Does anything seem amiss? Are there leeches, worms, ick, or open gaping wounds with some sort of organism existing inside it?

If this is the case, this fish should be summarily killed and removed from the pond or waterway immediately to prevent further spread of whatever may be ailing this fish.

Pollutants

Pollutants are one of the most common reasons a bass may not be edible. Whether it’s constant runoff from a roadway, trash or sewage accumulation, or even intentional disposal of chemicals by corporations, these are all legitimate factors for not consuming bass from these aquatic locations. 

Checking the surface and clarity of the water is a good start. If you wouldn’t swim in it, you wouldn’t eat anything from it.

Paying attention to the surroundings and what is next to the shoreline is another way to determine whether the waterway may be polluted.

Finally, check local news stations to see if any chemical spills or mishaps have occurred near the areas you plan on angling in. If all else fails, contact your local fish and wildlife agent or fishing guide and ask their opinion.

The safest places to consume bass are spring-fed, secluded ponds or lakes that lack exterior pollution and are regularly monitored for parasites or disease.

Not only have these locations been home to some of the largest bass I’ve ever caught, but they also provide a clean haven for fish to grow and multiply without the introduction of pollutants, pesticides, or parasites.

How to Prepare Bass

There are two ways to go about preparing a bass for a meal.

Full Fish

The full fish technique allows the majority of the bass body to stay intact and requires less dexterity with the knife.

  • Step 1. Create an incision at the base of the tail fin and cut down the underside of the bass until reaching the chin.
  • Step 2. Remove all internal organs and rinse the open cavity with water.
  • Step 3. Scrape the cavity with fingers to ensure no remnants of any internal organs are left, and then rinse again.
  • Step 4. Scrape the scales. Run the blade against the grain of the scales to remove all of them from both sides of the fish. Rinse again with water. 

2) Fillet

When filleting a bass, this provides a cleaner cut of bass in a smaller quantity without having to remove the internal organs.

  • Step 1. Create a vertical incision behind the pectoral fin that runs from belly to spine.
  • Step 2. Flip the blade so that it is flush against the spine and facing the tail. Maintain downward pressure and a slight angle while running the knife along the spine until the tail is reached.
  • Step 3. Repeat on the opposite side.
  • Step 4. Rinse all fillets before cooking.
  •  Step 5. At the cook’s discretion, remove the skin and or ribs for a cleaner piece of bass.

Bass are an incredibly popular species of sports fish amongst anglers in the United States. They are prized not only for their voracious appetite and ferocity at the end of the line but also for their delicious flavor profile.

Bass is great to eat from a pallet perspective and the health perspective, containing many healthy fats and vitamins.

When eating a bass you have caught, make sure to pay attention to where these basses come from and look for signs of parasites, pollution, or pesticide. Ensure that the water quality is acceptable and that the fish is within legal limits of whatever jurisdiction you are in.

As always, good luck, and stay safe out on the water.

Jacob Pelle
Fishing Expert
Jake Pelle is a third-generation outdoorsman and Eagle Scout. He grew up fishing ponds and rivers in South Louisiana and Mississippi and graduated to fishing brackish/marsh and coastal waters for redfish, drum, and speckled trout. When not on a flat range, he can be found with rod and reel in hand searching for the next greatest fishing hole in South Louisiana.
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Articles » Freshwater Fishing » Can You Eat Bass? (What Does Bass Taste Like?)