Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass?

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post covering an often asked question when it comes to Bass fishing… can you eat Smallmouth Bass? Now, the short answer is absolutely, if fact, it is one of the more popular fresh water species to consume…

So let’s check out the ins and outs of the consumption of this species below…

What are Smallmouth Bass?

can you eat smallmouth bass - smallmouth bass

So, before we start, let’s just quickly recap what we are talking about here. Smallmouth Bass are an aggressive freshwater gamefish found predominately in Northern America. Whilst they are a little smaller than their Largemouth ‘cousins’, they are just as popular for fisherman due to their ultra hard fight for their size. They can be found in faster running and clearer water than the Largemouth however in lakes will often share spawning zones.

They are distinguished by their slender appearance, connected dorsal fins and bard stripes across the eyes. They are typically brown, bronze, or tan in color with dark vertical bars which are usually green or gray. Females are generally larger than males with an average weight of 3 – 6lb (males around 2lb) at a length of 12 to 16″.

Note: Most states and jurisdictions implement ‘slot limits’ on Smallmouth Bass catches which determines the minimum and maximum sizes that can be kept as well as bag limits (e.g. 5 per person) on the number that can be harvested on each trip.

Can you eat Smallmouth Bass?

Although not as common as many saltwater species, Smallmouth Bass is a popular table fish with a white flesh and a clean taste. Some even prefer them to other freshwater species as they tend to inhabit cleaner, faster running water meaning they are less susceptible to being found in dirty, murky or contaminated water.

Are they any good?

Smallmouth Bass are quite popular as a table fish mainly due to the fact that as they live in cleaner and faster running water, their flesh is also quite clean. They have a white, meaty flesh that is often described as ‘sweet’. It tends to be less ‘fishy’ than Largemouth however as with most freshwater species, can take on many of the characteristics of their habitats such as:

  • They will take on the flavour of their surroundings – so avoid eating if they are caught in murky, stagnant or dirty water.
  • The older varieties tend to taste a lot stronger or ‘fishier’ so if you are planning to keep one for dinner, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the biggest one you catch.
  • Larger varieties are also more susceptible to worms, parasites and increased absorbsion of waterway contaminants.

In most cases, as long as the water is clean and you are within your slot limit, then you are generally ok.


As with most white meated fish, Smallmouth Bass do not need to be bled upon capture however if you plan to consume it, then it is always a good idea to place them on ice as soon as possible after it is landed. Many use an ice slurry in a cooler which is generally a ratio of 2 parts ice to 1 part water for this purpose.

Due to their eating habits, freshwater fish must be thoroughly cleaned and rinsed prior to consumption. From here, preparation will be determined by how you plan to eat it. If they are to be eaten whole then you will need to clean and scale them beforehand. If you plan to pan fry, then you can either scale and fillet or fillet and skin. Keep the meat refrigerated or on ice at all times before and after preparation.

can you eat smallmouth bass - smallmouth bass on plate

Can you freeze uncooked fillets?

Yes – Raw Smallmouth Bass can be frozen for 3 – 6 months. It must at the very least be gutted and cleaned and placed in an airtight bag (ziplock bags are good here – try to remove as much air as possible) prior to being placed in the freezer. They will last longer (often up to 12 months) if vacuum sealed prior to being loaded into the freezer.

Can they be eaten raw?

Technically yes, if it is caught in clean water and prepared with the utmost care until eaten then it can be ok – although the taste does not match that of saltwater species such as Tuna, Salmon and Kingfish. The issue here however is that freshwater fish tends to contain more bacteria and parasites which are killed off by cooking.

How to cook Smallmouth Bass

At the end of the day, due to its white flesh, Smallmouth Bass can be prepared in the same manner as most other fresh or saltwater species in that they can be:


Bass fillets can be cooked over charcoal or gas grills with any and all spices and seasonings as you see fit. Below is a common recipe:

  1. Heat a grill hot but not smoking.
  2. Pat bass fillets dry then spread butter or oil over the non-skinned side (or both if fillet is skinned) along with salt and pepper.
  3. Grill fillets until just cooked (fillets start to flake) – Do not overcook as the meat will go dry.
  4. Consume with salad or grilled vegetables.

You can of course use any other herbs or spices on the flesh to taste.

Pan Fried

As above, but in a pan – I like to add garlic to the butter when I pan fry white fish fillets with the salt and pepper as well. I have seen many Smallmouth Bass recipes with Asian spices used too so that is also worth a try. Of course, they can also be crumbed as well which entails:

  1. Gather three bowls and in the first, place some flour, eggs (beaten) in the second and breadcrumbs in the third.
  2. Pat dry each fillet (skin on or off to preference) and then cover in flour.
  3. Sink the flour covered fillets into the egg mixture and then cover in breadcrumbs
  4. Shallow fry in the oil of your choice in a pan large enough to hold the full size of the fillet.
  5. Spritz with lemon juice and consume with fries (chips), salad or whatever else takes your fancy.

Note: For extra flavour, add salt and pepper to the flour or even some grated Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs. I have even seen some good recipes using BBQ rubs on the fillets as well.

can you eat smallmouth bass - cooked smallmouth bass


For this last option, the fish is cooked whole in the oven. A cooking example is as below:

  1. Make sure the fish is cleaned and scaled.
  2. Score the skin with a sharp knife (This will stop it shrinking too much from the heat)
  3. Cover the outside with a lubricant such as butter or oil
  4. Fill the cavity with whatever takes your fancy (common options are garlic, herbs, spices, lemon, tomatoes or mustard)
  5. Bake in the oven until just cooked – again, it will dry out if left too long

Note: Based on my research over a number of recipes, a 1.5lb Bass will take around 15 – 30 minutes in a 375 deg oven.


And there you go – my response to the question of whether you can eat Smallmouth Bass. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences – or recipes – would love to see your recipes below too.

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time

Have fun


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2 thoughts on “Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass?”

  1. Smallmouth actually have a very slow growth rate compared to other species which means catch and release is highly advocated throughout angling communities.
    A catch and release mentality is necessary to maintain populations in most fisheries.


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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

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