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Ray Sasser: Handle with care: Don't break the jaw of your big bass

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

February is just two weeks away. Depending on the weather, February is the month in which big bass season begins.

Thanks to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's revamp of its Toyota ShareLunker program, there's a new, more inclusive definition of "big" when it comes to largemouth bass.

No longer does it take a bass of 13 pounds or more to raise eyebrows. Rather than raise the bar, TPWD lowered the bar to eight pounds for recognition by the fittingly vaunted lunker program.

All the new rules and regulations are online at

You can download a ShareLunker app to your smartphone. Familiarize yourself with the rules. Know what to do before catching a lunker.

The most exciting part is that the lunkers really are shared. First the catch is shared on social media. Second, the lunker is shared by releasing the fish to thrill other anglers as it makes a halfhearted attempt at a jump, like a fat man trying to clear the Olympic high jump bar.

The idea is for anglers to become citizen scientists, reporting the catch and release of significant largemouth bass. They may even take a scale or two for genetic analysis. Unwittingly, they will kill a fair number of these big fish. They will do it while emulating their favorite television fishing stars.

Bill Dance has the longest continuously running fishing show, and I've watched him kill more big bass than I've killed small ones for fish fries. I love the guy, but he kills big bass by holding the fish with an exaggerated lip grip.

He holds the fish up for the camera to record, then slips it back into the water, where it swims away as if nothing had happened. Dance doesn't tell viewers how much the fish weighs, but he catches a fish weighing eight pounds or more on nearly every show.

Eight pounds is too much weight for a fish's jaw to support. Does a bass look bigger suspended vertically by its lower jaw with the lip rolled back? Absolutely, and that's why anglers like the pose. Holding her (all big bass are females) in this fashion, however, may be signing her death warrant. She swims away and faces starvation. It's hard to eat with a broken jaw.

Dance isn't the only one guilty of the rolled-back lip grip. Watch a bass tournament weigh-in, and you'll see just about every significant-size fish shown off by a lip grip. Luckily, most bass that come through a tournament weigh-in don't weigh enough to damage the jaw.

It's OK to hold a big fish by the lower lip. That's the best way to control a bass. Just be sure to support the fish's weight with your off hand. This creates a pose that's more horizontal than vertical and the fish doesn't look quite as big. It does stand a much better chance of surviving being caught and "released."

Another step in ShareLunker 2.0 that's sure to kill some fish is photographing the catch. A photo is necessary for documentation, but don't wait until you catch a big fish to learn how the camera works. Make sure your fishing partner knows the plan and how the camera works.

While you're setting up the photo, put the fish in your boat's live well, assuming it has a good one. Otherwise, invest $129 in a BogaGrip. It's an ingenious spring scale that's accurate enough to be certified for a world record by the International Game Fish Association.

It has locking jaws to clamp on the fish's lower jaw. Once the BogaGrip is attached, the fish cannot escape. Use the BogaGrip to hold the fish in the water until you position the boat for the best light, make sure the camera is turned on and everybody knows how the photo will be posed.

Now, as quickly as possible, take two or three photos and get the fish back in the water while you check the photos to make sure they're good. Remember that a fish cannot breathe out of water. Also, all big fish are senior citizens.

The ShareLunker website has other tips on caring for big bass. It's only catch-and-release when the fish lives.


SATURDAYS, JAN. 13, JAN. 20, JAN. 27--Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. Details at 214-265-1600.

SUNDAY, JAN. 21--South zone deer, dove, turkey and Zone C sandhill crane season close.

SUNDAY, JAN. 28--Duck season and eastern zone goose season end.

FRIDAY, FEB. 2-SUNDAY, FEB. 11--DFW Boat Expo at Dallas Market Hall, 2200 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas. Details at

SUNDAY, FEB. 4--West zone goose season ends.

SATURDAY, FEB. 17--Cabela's King Kat Tournament at Lake Tawakoni. Details at

THURSDAY, FEB. 22-SUNDAY, FEB. 25--Dallas RV Super Sale at Dallas Market Hall, 2200 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas. Details at

SUNDAY, FEB. 25--Quail season ends.