April 20, 2016

How Bass Eat

How Bass Eat

If you’re a BassHole, you wonder, “How bass eat,” because you want every bit of information that can help you gain intelligence to better catch them (then let them go).

Thankfully, science can help answer that very question.

Bass are like vacuum cleaners: they suck!

Scientists studying how fish feed have discovered that bass really put their backs into it!

It’s not muscles in the bass’s head or mouth that provide the powerful suction to pull prey into the jaws of bass, but rather the same muscles used to power their swimming.

Specifically, it’s the muscles arranged at the top of the bass’s back.

Scientists have suspected that there must be something more than just the bass’s head muscles to create the suction, but they had no idea. Until researchers at Brown University were able to use sophisticated 3-D X-ray video equipment to photograph the bass while feeding, confirming that it’s the bass’s back does the real work.

How’s the bass’s big mouth involved?

First up are the bones in the bass’s mouth. Those bones are likened to the spokes of an umbrella, and when there is food to be eaten, the bass’s mouth opens like there was a sudden downpour. This allows the size of the bass’s mouth to double in volume rapidly (giving another meaning to “large mouth” bass!).

==> Click here for the science video of bass feeding technique <==

What about those back muscles?

How Bass Eat
This guy knew how bass eat!

Biologists calculate that approximately 95% of the suction power of a bass is generated by flexing its back muscles, resulting in explosive slurpation (probably not a real word), measured at up to 15 watts. The swimming muscles along the side and stomach also contribute, but the back muscles do most of the heavy lifting. These are the same big white filets that people find delicious when they order fish in a restaurant.

What about swimming?

These same muscles are used by the bass to accelerate. So not only do they help gulp the prey, but they help the bass get to where the prey is located for a fast and tasty (?) meal.Striped bass fish

Bass acceleration experts (yup, they do exist!) say bass can swim for quick bursts at the rate of 2.5 times their body length per second. So small fish accelerate less than larger fish (and so cannot escape if being pursued by a big bass!), while as 20 inch bass can get up to 12 miles per hour, and some experts put the speed of some bass at 20 mph!

How can a BassHole use this information to catch them bass?

This BassHole sees 3 main points to consider to improve your bass fishing.

1. Lure size.bass lure red head

You don’t really need to worry that your lure is “too big” for the bass to eat. Even small bass can open their mouths like buckets (and so the name “bucket mouth” quickly thanks to their biology.

Plus the massive slurping power of the bass will pull that lure or bait right into the mouth.

Just remember you may need to wait a bit for the fish to close that mouth, turn, and start to leave before you set the hook, or you may end up pulling it right out of the bass’s mouth!

2. Retrieve speed.

If bass are chasing your lure, you probably can’t reel faster than the bass can swim. So don’t think you need to “slow down” for the bass! If that bass is interested, that bass will get to your bait.

That’s not to say you should always “burn” your bait back to the boat (or float tube, or bank, or you). Figuring out the right rate of retrieve is a key element to successful fishing. Some days they want a slow retrieve, but there are days when they want a faster retrieve!

I remember fishing topwater baits for smallmouth bass on a river, and I wasn’t having much luck. So I cranked fast to get ready for my next catch, and then the smallies attacked! After that, I knew they were looking for faster moving baits.


I think it’s fascinating how much scientists have learned about fish in general and bass in particular during the past 20 years.

And this fresh knowledge has certainly challenged many of my old beliefs, which also happen to be 2 decades old! So I’m learning new facts and discarding old myths (which, at that time, were considered facts!).

Man w 2 bassI can’t help but wonder what will be the prevailing fish wisdom in another 20 years? And will I still be around to profit from it? Of course I’m hoping I am!

I’d love to hear what my fellow BassHoles have learned about bass, or other fishing facts, that challenged their own notions.

So please share your new insights with your fellow BassHoles below!

Tight lines!

Roger, The Smiling BassHole

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The Smiling BassHole

I'm a BassHole!Kickin' Bass and lettin' them go.

Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Bass look to be athletic predators. Good looking lures seem to have no escape and look to be dead on arrival. I know it is not that easy and the fish just jump in the boat. I would imagine if someone had a good spot and system they would not tell. LOL

    • Tony,

      It is true that some fishermen jealously guard their secrets, though it is usually more about a specific spot or location, rather than a lure or technique.

      Indeed, fishermen are pretty forthcoming about the lures they use, and how they use them, to catch big bass.

      Of course, maybe they are just telling us ONE thing and doing another?

      We’ll see as the year goes forward as I’m using new techniques I learned over the past year!

      Thanks, Tony!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • WOW! Talk about suction! It’s like they have a vacuum cleaner for a mouth! The videos you posted are quite interesting. It’s amazing how science figures out all these things. The more knowledge we have, the better our equipment and techniques become, the more successful at fishing we become!

    Just hope they never over-technology (dunno if that’s a word) fishing equipment to the point where it’s so easy that it’s not fun anymore.

    Another great post! Thanks Roger!

    • Thanks, Andy!

      I can’t imagine how they could over-technologize fishing so it wasn’t fun.

      Even with fish finders, electronics, and analytical brains, we still have to work hard to get the bass to cooperate. Of course, it’s fun for we BassHoles to catch the bass; but NOT fun to them!

      One of the great things about fishing, as with many other hobbies and activities, is that no matter how good you get, no matter how accomplished, you can still always improve. Look at the Pros. They are very good at catching bass, have all the latest equipment and information, and still they strive to learn more and improve their skills. And they still have a blast when they catch a big bass!

      So I’m not worried about having science take the fun out of fishing. But thanks for the discussion!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Have to confess that I know nothing about fishing but I inherited a bamboo and cork fishing rod from my grandfather. I’ve no idea what he used to catch with it, but it certainly doesn’t look sturdy enough to be used to catch bass. The only thing I do know about sea bass is how good it tastes!

    • Thanks, Daryl!

      Does that rig you inherited from your grandfather have a reel? Or is the line just attached at the end?

      If the latter, it can be used for many fishing situations. When you hook a fish, all you need to do is raise the bamboo rod straight up, and the fish will come right to your hand. We used this type of rig to fish for bullhead, which are a type of cat fish, in the spring. When the cork went down, the rods went up!

      Let us know if you use it and catch some fish!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • cool info Roger. Never would have thought a bass could get up to 20 MPH! got a good chuckle out of “explosive slurpation” and the disclaimer. I was mostly told to reel in slow for the lures…..learn something new everyday!


    • Thanks, Lefty!

      Well, sometimes you reel slow, sometimes you reel fast! It all depends on what the bass want. And they’re NOT telling you, you have to figure it out through trial and error!

      But unless you can REALLY crank that reel, the bass can catch your lure if he / she wants to!

      Yes, I like to make up words and terms! Glad it got a chuckle.

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • I had no idea bass ate by “inhaling” their food. Very interesting. Don’t whales do this too? or do they just swim with their mouth open?

    • Jaron,

      Different whales eat in different ways. Humpback and other baleen whales swim with their mouths open, then squeeze the water out and trap plankton in their baleen plates. So they don’t suck the water in as much as they blow the water out!

      Interesting question, thanks!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Hi Roger,

    I find that quite interesting that bass use their back muscles so much to get that amount ‘slurpation’ (and if that is not a word, it sure should be!)

    I used to go up to my grandparents farm most weekends when I was a kid (this is in Australia, by the way), and they had a creek right at the bottom end of the property. It was a bit of a mission to get there, LOTS of snakes and bulls and stinging nettles. We used to fish there for bass and perch, and there were plenty of catfish (and lots of eels in the dams too!).

    The bass were really hard to catch there, just not many of them around I guess. Do you know if what we call bass in Australia are the same as your bass? I might head back to the farm with a new lure and have another crack at it.

    Dr Brad

    • Dr. Brad,

      It turns out that “Australian bass” are not the same as the bass we have here in North America. But it has some very similar characteristics.

      * Aggressive
      * Hard fighting
      * Most popular freshwater game fish

      And many of the same lures and techniques will work to catch your bass.

      So you should definitely take another crack at your Australian bass. And then come back and share your adventures with your fellow “Yankee” BassHoles!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Great article i’m not very experienced at all with fishing so this was new information for me. It was interesting to read and i learned something new today. I feel like i should give fishing a try to know if its something i enjoy.
    What do you enjoy about fishing?

    • Jorge,

      I’ve ALWAYS loved fishing. Even before I had BEEN fishing as a young boy, I really wanted to go. Why? No idea!

      And I’m the only member of my family who feels that way. My brother is a hunter, but hunting wasn’t fun for me. I did like target shooting, though.

      With fishing I can let the fish go, and I like doing that.

      Basically I love casting, it’s hitting a target. And I love playing “tug of war” with a fish! It certainly keeps me occupied!

      Thanks for asking.

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Hey Roger. Very interesting. I had no idea that bass were so strong! It’s also very surprising that there is a science for everything including how bass eat! WOW.

    I will be sure to share this new found info with the fishermen I know. I think they’ll appreciate the tip about waiting until they turn to swim away before trying to pull them in.


    • Thanks, Liz!

      It can be VERY hard to wait to set that hook! After all, when you see a fish hit, you want to jerk the rod! And sometimes that will work. But if you find that the fish is getting away, then you probably need to wait.

      One technique is to point your rod toward the fish, then reel till you feel weight on the line, and then set!

      Another is to simply count: 1 – 2 – 3, then set! That’s hard!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Had no idea about Bass or fish in general really but this was defiantly something interesting to read about! I defiantly did not know they were so quick! Also very interesting video on the luring, that is something I could very well use one day! Good read!

    • Thanks, Kyle!

      I’ve seen bass come up from below to snatch my lure, but also had no idea they could move at such speeds. But it certainly is entertaining to watch! And exciting! I especially love it when they come up to the top to grab my topwater baits. Those kinds of hits are thrilling to the most experience of anglers.

      I hope you find these tips useful to catch your own bass. And when you do, be sure and come back to share your triumphs with your fellow BassHoles!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Hey Roger.

    Last time I went bass fishing I was still in high school. We are more along the cost for some salt water fishing at the moment.

    That being said, I am looking forward to getting back into some chilled out bass fishing and possible becoming a basshole myself. haha! Love it!

    I am glad I found your post as I would definitely have been trying to set the hook too early on and would have lost a few.

    Watching the video clip of how bass eat is super interesting. I could not believe how many missed attempts there were. It almost reminds me of how a Leervis (Garrick) will spit out on the first take to descale its prey and then set the hook on the second take.

    Thanks for the awesome info!

    Marc Parsons

    • Thanks, Marc!

      “Still in high school” is a relative time measurement. THIS BassHole was still in high school before you were born! Possibly LONG before. (I graduated high school in 1971.)

      More importantly, you are still fishing, but salt water. Awesome! I’ve done very little of that myself. I did go on a charter boat one morning many years ago (decades) seeking salmon, but all I caught was mackerel. Which was still fun!

      One tip on setting the hook: if you feel the “weight” of the bass (you can feel there is resistance as you reel in), then go ahead and set! When I was a BassHole (officially, I belonged to a club by that name), we would always say, “The second set is free.” Meaning, if you set the hook again, you haven’t lost anything. But if the first hook set was not total, you could lose the bass.

      Very interesting about the Leervis (Garrick). I did wonder if the bass in the video was “orienting” the bait — I have read that they prefer to get the bait head first. Maybe I’ll have to question the next bass I catch!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • This was a very interesting read. I would have never guessed that the back muscles do all that work. It’s cool what scientists can do now with all the technology, like the 3-D X-ray video equipment they used to photograph the bass feeding. The two videos are a great touch to your article.

    • Thanks, Summerly!

      It is amazing with that 3-D X-ray. Don’t worry about not guessing the bass’s back muscles control the suction, nobody knew that for sure for decades! It was suspected they were involved, but not how. Now they know!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the videos!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Very interesting piece of content. It seems that you are your own science guy though. I love the way you write about fishing, it really shows what your passion truly is. And after all the comments I believe it is needless to say I belong to people who would never guess that back muscles helps bass to suck.

    Simply fascinating!

    • Thanks, David!

      I was a bit of a nerd when I was young (spoiler alert: my wife says I am STILL a nerd!), and was always interested in science. I was also good at math, but science was a way to understand how things work.

      I’ve never lost that interest in understanding the underlying mechanics of how things work. So my favorite cooking shows (when studying organic chemistry in college, my professor was amazed at my lab work, and was surprised to hear me compare it to cooking!) always explain the why’s underlying their techniques: America’s Test Kitchen, Good Eats, etc.

      Does it improve my fish catching ability?

      Probably not.

      Does it enhance my enjoyment of fishing?



      Hmmmmm, maybe I AM still a nerd?!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Hi Roger
    Very nice article. I agree with you that it’s crazy how much we can now know about fish and other animals because of science. I think we will keep finding new things all the time, things that we first thought were wrong.

    You can truly see the passion that you have for fishing and for bass fishing in particular. Feels like the go to site for information about fishing.


    • Thanks, Marcus!

      I’m pretty sure there is much we currently “KNOW” is true, which ain’t! I’m always fascinated with new information that changes how we see things (paradigm shifts). They feel uncomfortable at first, but in the long run it’s better off knowing the more!

      And that is certainly true about fish as well. 2 decades ago, many of us believed that fish were simply “yes” or “no” binary thinkers. Now research is showing there is much more going on!

      I do love fishing! No idea why, but it’s true.

      So if you have any questions or requests, be sure and let me know!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

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