Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass? (Explained)

Just like most popular fishing shows on television, most people consider bass fishing a catch and release endeavor.  In particular, smallmouth bass are undeniably a blast to catch, but can you eat them?

Yes, absolutely!  They are bountiful in many areas of the United States, taste great, and are healthy too. 

Although some people choose not to eat them, these reasons generally revolve around cultural traditions and misinformation about their diet.

Do Smallmouth Bass Taste Good?

Smallmouth bass are a white meat fish, similar to walleye, cod, tilapia, and catfish, though they aren’t as commercially available as these species.  This doesn’t mean they are anything short of delectable, and there are many popular recipes out there from around the world.

Unlike some of the other black bass species, like largemouth, smallmouth bass are much more popular to eat.  This is because their taste tends to be sweeter and less fishy than their big-mouth brethren.

What Size Smallmouth Taste The Best?

Like most other freshwater fish species, the biggest isn’t usually the best when it comes to taste.  Catching a massive fish generally means it is an old one.  These fish tend to develop a fishy flavor as well as accumulate toxins and other unwanted materials from their surroundings.

Most people enjoy smallmouth bass in the range of 1-2.5 lbs.  Depending on the fish’s diet, this usually translates to about 11-17 inches.  

Smallmouth bass above this size tend to have diminishing returns when it comes to the sweet and scrumptious flavor that they are known for.

Are Smallmouth Bass Healthy To Eat?

Not only are smallmouth tasty, they are also a healthy option for those who have access to them.

Some of the health benefits of smallmouth bass include:

  • Great source of protein (~20 grams per 3-ounce serving)
  • Low saturated fat content (<1 gram per 3-ounce serving)
  • Packed with Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA which can help prevent heart disease
  • Low calorie (~120 calories per 3-ounce serving)
  • Great source of vitamins B6 and B12 which promote energy and regulation of blood sugar levels 
  • High in the antioxidant selenium which supports healthy immune function and thyroid health
  • Contains a myriad of other vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, and potassium

How Do You Prepare Smallmouth Bass?

Smallmouth bass are just as easy to clean as most other freshwater fish species.  The easiest way to do this is to filet the fish by cutting along the backbone just behind the pectoral fin to the back of the dorsal fin.

Cut the skin away from the filet and remove any small rib fragments that may still be in the meat.  You can do this by cutting them out in a V-shape, or removing them individually with a knife or pliers to avoid wasting any meat.

And there you have it! Easy to harvest smallmouth filets that can be cooked in a wide variety of different methods.

Can You Eat Smallmouth Bass

What Are The Best Ways To Cook Smallmouth Bass?

There are an infinite number of smallmouth bass recipes out there, but they are most commonly fried, grilled, baked, or stewed.

  • Fry them up in a pan or deep-fryer.  Small chunks can be battered, seasoned, and marinated to take your upcoming fish fry to the next level.
  • Pop the filets in the oven with butter and lemon.  A great baked option that is healthier than frying.
  • Cube the filets and toss them in the crockpot.  Just add your favorite seasonings and vegetables for a delicious fish stew.
  • Combine the filets with peppers and onions, put them on skewers, and toss them onto the grill.  Easy and mouthwatering bass kebabs that everyone will love.

Why Don’t All Anglers Eat Smallmouth Bass?

There are plenty of lifelong smallmouth bass fishermen out there who have never actually tasted them, but why is this?

Heavy Metal Contamination

Some anglers choose to pass on eating smallmouth bass because of possible heavy metal content.  Like any aquatic species, smallmouth bass can absorb harmful substances like mercury and copper by eating baitfish that contain them.

Since smallmouth bass are carnivorous, they will eat just about any living thing that crosses their path, making them prone to high levels of unwanted chemicals.  This can be easily avoided by only eating fish that come out of clean water.  

If you catch a smallmouth in a stagnant pond or area that is known to have problems with heavy metals leaching into the water, it’s probably a good idea not to consume it.  

You can always check with your local department of natural resources or division of wildlife to confirm the safety of consuming fish out of nearby bodies of water.


Smallmouth bass are considered sportfish like musky, pike, and sturgeon, which makes the idea of eating them seem unthinkable to some.  This hangup isn’t really based in fact, it’s more of a social stigma similar to reasons that certain people won’t eat catfish or carp.

Added Benefits Of Eating Smallmouth Bass

Though smallmouth bass aren’t considered invasive, they are viewed as a nuisance by some anglers.  This is especially true for those who prefer to fish for other species like walleye, crappie, and bluegill.

The high prevalence of these fish throughout the United States creates competition with other fish species that share the same habitat and food sources. 

Because these fish populate certain fisheries so densely, it can actually put stress on the amount of baitfish that are available.

Certain areas within the US implement regulations, like slot limits, to promote the harvest of this species.  Removing some of these fish from inundated waterways can actually have a positive effect on the overall ecosystem.

This is just a general statement, and aquatic ecosystems aren’t anything short of complex, so be sure to leave the population control to the professionals and adhere to all local fishing regulations.

Final Thoughts

Smallmouth bass aren’t only tasty, they are packed with nutrients and easy to prepare.  If your culinary skills aren’t up to par with your angling abilities, fear not, even a greenhorn in the kitchen can transform these fish into something special.

Don’t let the fact that some anglers choose not to eat smallmouth bass deter you from trying this freshwater delicacy.  As long as they are harvested from a clean water source, they are a perfectly viable fish to enjoy regularly.

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