can you eat bass

Can You Eat Bass? (is bass good to eat?)

Bass are found in most lakes, ponds, and reservoirs across the United states. Many species, such as largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass are highly sought after by fishers. Besides being abundant and fun to catch, you may be wondering if you can eat bass, and which ones are the best to eat.

So, can you eat bass safely? Every bass species in the order Perciformes is safe and tasty to eat. This includes largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, white, rock, and more. While all bass can be eaten, some taste better than others. The size of the bass, the water conditions it lives in, and the time of year can all influence the flavor and ease of preparation for your fish.

Keep reading to find out which bass are the best to eat, what they taste like, best size to eat, and the best time of year to catch bass…

Which Bass Species are the Best to Eat? And What do They Taste Like?

There are a number of different bass species commonly eaten in the US. Although they are all edible, they do have some differences in size and flavor.

sea bass with lemon

Largemouth Bass: Largemouth bass are the most popular species of bass to eat. Their flesh is white and relatively mild, with only a light fishy flavor. The fillet should be flaky and moderately firm when cooked.

Smallmouth Bass: Another popular bass to fish for, the smallmouth bass has a very mild and somewhat sweet flavor. They tend to taste less fishy on average than a largemouth, although the color and texture of their meat is more or less the same.

Spotted Bass: Similar to the smallmouth, this bass has a mild, white meat with almost no fishy taste. The meat is firm and almost buttery when cooked. The firmer texture means that this fish can hold up to frying or grilling better than panfish without falling apart.

Rock Bass: Although their small size makes them less popular targets than some other bass species, rock bass can make a tasty meal. Their meat is delicate and flaky, with a somewhat fishier flavor than other bass species. Unlike larger bass species, rock bass fillets are more prone to breaking apart and must be handled more gently during cooking.

Regardless of which bass species you choose to eat, it is important to only eat bass fished from relatively clean water. Any bass caught in murky, polluted water can have a strong, unpleasant flavor to them. This includes waters with uncontrolled algal blooms or water that catches agricultural or lawn runoff. Besides having a bad taste, these fish are likely to have a larger buildup of toxins in their flesh than bass caught in clearer water.

It is also wise to give your bass a quick checkup before you decide to keep it. Bass with sores, cysts, unusual black or white spots, tattered fins, or other signs of illness should not be eaten. They will not taste good and could even make you sick if not cooked all the way through.

What Size of Bass is Best to Eat?

In general, the best bass to eat are those just above the minimum size limit to keep in your area. For largemouth and smallmouth bass, this is usually about 12-14 inches or 1.5-4 pounds. While it might seem strange to only keep your smaller catches, there are several good reasons to do so.

Young adult fish have less meat than older, larger fish, but the fillets tends to be more delicate and mild. Since bass are predators, they consume small amounts of mercury and other contaminants every time they eat another fish. These contaminants build up in the bass’ flesh as they age, meaning that older bass have a much higher mercury content than younger ones. Large bass also tend to take on a muddier, less palatable flavor as they age.

In addition to flavor, there are other reasons to release your prize whopper. Bass become more fertile as they age, and large females lay far more eggs each season than younger, smaller females.

While a twelve inch bass may be only a few years old and just starting to breed, some of the largest bas could be 15-20 years old or older! By taking the largest fish out of the lake, you are hurting your chances of catching bass in future years. Allowing these large, mature fish to return to the lake and continue reproducing ensures a good supply of young bass for next season.

What Time of Year Should I Catch Bass?

When considering when to catch bass to eat, you must first consider their spawning schedule. Once lake water temperatures reach the high fifties (late winter for the southern US to late spring for the northern US), bass will begin to feed heavily. This is known as the pre spawning period.

After a couple weeks they will move on to the spawning period, when they lay and guard their eggs. In many parts of the US, fishing season does not begin until after the end of the spawning period. This is because catching fish at this time can cause disruptions in their breeding and lower the bass population in the lake for future years.

The post spawning period, beginning about a month after spawning starts, is one of the best times to catch bass you intend to eat. Bass spawn earlier than many other lake fish, so fishing for bass can begin relatively early. This first ideal fishing period can take place anywhere from February to June depending on your location.

The flavor of bass caught in the spring tends to be milder and cleaner than bass caught later in the year. In the winter, bass have little to eat and mostly swim idly near warm currents. This resting period means that their meat does not accumulate a strong flavor from their diet.

Increased muck and pollutants in the summer can cause bass caught in the summertime to have a gamier flavor. However, if your lake is reasonably clean, bass caught in the summer can make a good meal.

Bass caught during especially hot summer weather may have a mealy texture or visible parasites and need to be inspected closely before you decide whether to keep them. While bass parasites are harmless to humans once the fish is fully cooked, they are an unpleasant surprise.

Fall is another good time to fish for bass. Once the water temperatures begin to drop, bass will become very hungry as they stock up for winter. The lower water temps also make the bass meat somewhat firmer and less likely to be wormy.

Recap: Can You Eat Bass Safely?

All freshwater bass in the United States is good to eat.

While Largemouth and Smallmouth are some of the most sought after species for the dinner table, many other bass species taste just as good.

Most bass have mild, reasonably firm meat that is white and flaky when cooked. In order to have the best meal, try to catch bass at the start of your local fishing season in the spring, or in mid fall when the water temperatures begin to drop.

And remember that when it comes to eating bass, small is usually better!

Bass that are closer to the legal minimum size (usually 12 inches or so) will give you milder, better textured fillets. On top of that, bigger fish lay the majority of eggs, and are important to keeping the bass stock in your lake plentiful.

Whether you choose to bake, fry, or grill, fresh caught bass makes a delicious and rewarding meal.