Pro Tips: Support Your Bass—Stop the Lip Grip!


Graphic by Les Booth

Fly fishers have spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to promote the #Keepemwet ethic as a way to ensure the highest survival rates from catch-and-release fishing. What we’ve talked about less is how the ways that we hold fish can also do damage.

For more than a decade, Indiana angler Les Booth has made it his mission to get anglers to stop employing the Horizontal-One-Hand-Lip-Grip-Hold when they show off their bass. You’ve seen this grip a hundred times on Facebook and on Saturday-morning fishing shows. What’s remarkable is that even the world’s most famous bass anglers do it, which then promotes the practice among members of the amateur-angling community. (Although some of the pros are trying to change.)


Rob Woodruff of Woodruff Guide Service shows how to properly support a bass’s body.
Photo by Jenny Mayrell-Woodruff

Why is this a problem? I’ll let Les explain:

It’s a muscle thing. Bass ( and all sunfish) eat by sucking prey into their buccal cavity (mouth). It’s a five-step process that works like this: 1. Open Jaw; 2. Suck in water and prey; 3.Close Jaw; 4. Expel water out gills; and 5. Swallow prey (food). It is that simple. However, the force generated to generate the necessary suction is considerable and requires a great deal of muscle strength. The muscles needed to do this are all jointly connected to the operculum fulcrum point (OFP). This is the same point where, in an improperly held fish, all the pressure of the fish’s body weight—suspended without support—is focused. When those muscles are strained or injured, let alone torn, the fish’s ability to generate the suction necessary to capture prey is greatly reduced or, eliminated.


Graphic by Les Booth

Booth goes on to offer solutions to this pervasive problem:

  • Simply holding the fish with two hands, in a horizontal position will work best.
  • A purely vertical hold by the lower lip is okay for smaller fish only. Large bass, those fish over 3 pounds, suffer an elevated potential for internal damage from the vertical position, which should be avoided.

The best solution to the problem is what Booth calls the Lite-Touch™ method:

  • Minimal contact with the fish
  • Horizontal, two-hand support
  • Short duration of handling.

These are clearly good rules for handling any fish you plan to release.

Click here for Les Booth’s complete discussion of the problems with the Lip Grip. And feel free to share the graphics above, which can be found here and here.

31 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Support Your Bass—Stop the Lip Grip!”

    1. Why would you say Are you kidding? If we dont protect these fish and handle them the right way they die and that means they are growing or reproducing! Why should they not get the same respect as your precious baby?!

        1. Well , probably time for ole “” BALLz”” to chime in, sinceI’m joining the show late as always. This little ditty is for all us positive / progressive / good hearted /caring /thoughtful / helpful /kind /considerate , and of course Loving, but what we,,,,, ( meaning all of y’all that just know your some, or all these categories ) already been knowing is “” and is something that’s gets instilled into my little ones heads day after day , 365 a year , and that’s ” RESPECT ” .. of course right.
          The little boy that chimed in with its a (fish not a baby) clearly had no one to teach him about right out wrong. And I
          Personal feel bad for the little feller , let’s just pray he turns around one day and see the lite.
          But on the for real folks , I could totally ” LIP GRIP ” a baby if I had to, probably we all could,. Remember nice to me nice to you ✋

    2. No, it’s not a baby. But it has limits in the abuse it can handle and survive. Just like you or me. How many times can you take someone hitting you in the jaw with hammer before you are no longer able to survive. It’s the equivilent same injury.

      So, no. It’s not a baby. It is a fish. And if you care about the fishery – treat them with the care needed to insure they are around for your kids and grandkids to enjoy their offspring. -AOF

  1. Good info to know. But I have to say, the fact that the Lite Touch Method is trademarked cracks me up.

    1. And why is that, Sean? The trademark is on the marketable use of the term as it applies to a method; publication; media; distribution. It’s business. But hei, glad it brought you some levity. Goodness knows, we can all use more of that, today! Best! -AOF

  2. I call bullshit. I’ve caught tons of bass and have used this method of holding them, which is a safe way because it paralyzed the fish momentarily allowing the angler to get the hook out safely and efficiently and with less chance of dropping the fish. Not to mention, the fish I catch swim away with no problem. I know this because I’ve caught the same fish more than once on different occasions.

    1. Chris .. you can call ‘BS’ all you want, but the facts are straight. If you care about your fishery, read the latest report posted on my site. It’s hard cold facts. Derived from thousands of samples over a couple of decades. Mishandling of fish – smallmouth and largemouth bass suffer mostly from improper ‘stabilizing’ – the most popular method is the Lip-Grip. Boga-grips are not an answer either.

      If you care about your fishery .. what harm is it for you alter your pattern. I am not saying don’t fish. I’m just asking you, me and everyone else to care enough about the resource, to NOT be willing to take the chance that you are wrong. Bet ON THE FISH surviving because you cared enough to change.

      It ain’t about me Chris. It ain’t about you. It *IS* about the fish.

    2. Right… Because you tagged it and compared numbers upon catching “the same fish” a second time. Did you read the article? It doesn’t say anything about immediate death… I bet they did swim away… This is a long term injury that may affect the fishes ability to hunt and eat. So I call “bullshit” on you’re reading comprehension….

  3. Why even argue the point? Is there any logical benefit to the fish in wrenching it into a horizontal position by its lip? Is it natural in any way or consistent with the forces the animal sees throughout its normal life? The answer of course is, “No!”

    I’ve caught many bass, removed the hook while the fish’s weight was supported by the water or a net, held it horizontally while supporting it as recommended here and have had no issues… there is no need to further “paralyze” the fish for its own good. Catching fish a second time is a convenient piece of evidence but far from proof that the practice you suggest is a good idea. It’s like saying, “Golly, we’ve had a cold winter, this whole globally warming thing is a pile of bunk” – even if you are not in the climate change matters camp, it makes no sense whatsoever to continue wasteful / poor energy practices without end.

    Simply do the right thing and you may save a fish.

    1. Well said Jeffro. That *IS* my whole point. We have nothing to lose and the fish has everything to gain in NOT using the LIP-GRIP .. or Boga-Grip for that matter .. method of holding. Leave the fish in the water. If a photo is desired – take it of the fish ‘in the water’. Thank you for your good-sense. Best! -AOF

  4. I find this rather fascinating, considering the care we take with Trout in the handling and release. Most of us who catch and release are pretty gentle with a Trout. Why then would we not afford a Sunfish the same care? I hope the boys over at Bass Masters read this article

  5. Trout seem to have more respect in there handling than bass, probably because in the past trout have become extinct in certain lakes and rivers for various reasons, so when brought back always a feeling vulnerability. Part of living fly fishing is a certain code of ethics more so than other forms of fishing. That is an attraction of living to a higher standard which also lends to our elitist persona which most are not we just care. Bottom line we don’t need to be hypersensitive like crazy political correctness then we become fools. Maybe a healthy dose of simple respect. For the bass that fought so hard and strong , that bass has earned my respect and I’ll respect him by handling him with respect. I think the word RESPECT fits BASS . And when we show respect we earn respect. That’s healthy.

  6. I’m with the not lip holding horizontal without tail support. In fact. This article even shows in the graphic how not to lip grip but doesn’t show how to properly do it; that’s the problem; and… Chris is right, a lip grip, “vertically” of course, temporarily stops a bass from flopping around which can be just as damaging to the fish… and possibly the angler.

    Way too many people take articles like this and argue without regards to the entire truth. I personally will NOT stop lip gripping vertically to remove a lure or hook. I will continue to “ALWAYS” lip grip with tail support if I want a photo taken.

    Cold water trout are way more susceptible to harm by not handling properly than any warm water bass.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!!!

    1. Wait… I thought you didn’t fish fer trout. At least that’s what you told me last time we had a chat about your next go to material and fly.

    2. Hey mike……are you going to be putting us into another of your wonderful videos where you rant about stupid stuff? Or are you going to punk out like you usually do?

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