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Do Bass feel pain? A topic that arises from time to time in my fishing conversations is that of the ethicality of catch-and-release fishing. I enjoy catching fish of all species, and I will occasionally harvest some fish such as walleye for the dinner table. However, when it comes to largemouth bass (my favorite species to target) I am strictly 100% catch and release.
Some folks say that if you’re going to cause pain to a fish simply for the enjoyment of catching it, then you shouldn’t mess with it at all in the first place. As anglers, we do well to consider this point-of-view and have an answer ready for those who question the ethics behind catch-and-release angling.

I want to point out that I am not a biologist in any sense of the word. I have read a few articles on the subject, but the most credible source on the subject of fish pain that I’ve read comes from the infamous book entitled “Knowing Bass” by Keith Jones, PhD.

From the book, Jones begins by talking about how humans feel pain in regards to how our brains work. Long story short, humans sense pain primarily through the neocortex of our brains. Jones goes into much greater detail than this introducing the topics of how we have skin receptors to detect temperatures, pressure, etc. but I won’t go into detail with that. I just want to point out that fish don’t have the extensive receptors as humans in order to detect those types of things to the same extent as we do. Going back to the neocortex, because fish do not have one, they definitely do not sense pain the same way as humans do. This doesn’t mean that fish don’t sense pain in any way, shape, or form, however. It is possible that their brains have other means to detect pain that is unknown to scientists at this time.

In the end, Jones concludes that although it is a possibility that fish do indeed feel pain, there are at two things we know for certain. First: just as fish do not see or hear the same way humans see or hear, they neither feel pain the same way humans feel pain. Second: their pain perception will not come along with all the emotional baggage that humans tend to attach to painful events.

If you are interested in learning more about the biology of the largemouth bass, and how that knowledge can help you in your angling, then I would highly recommend reading a copy of “Knowing Bass”. It is a highly sought-after book for good reason and might be a very good item to put on your Christmas list this season!