“Lip Grip is OUT!”

Below is an excerpt from J. Leslie Booth’s (of  www.ofieldstream.com) titled “Lip Grip is OUT!”

The Problem: Gripping the lower lip (dentary), while holding the fish horizontal.  Thus, forcing the entire body weight of the fish to be supported at the operculum fulcrum point [OFJ](jaw).

The Result: The muscles connecting to the OFJ are subjected to extreme flexion. At the minimum, severe muscle stress and strain, resulting in the inability to use these muscles for eating. This puts a fish at high risk of fatal release.  At maximum, muscle and cartilage are damaged, along with the connecting tissue, with possible socket dislocation. This would be a broken jaw and a 100% post release mortality.


Cause of the PROBLEM: It’s a muscle thing.  Bass (all sunfish) eat by sucking the prey into their buccal cavity (mouth). Open Jaw > Suck in water and prey > close Jaw > expel water out gills > swallow food. It is that simple.  However, the force generated to perform the ’suck’, is considerable and requires a great deal of muscle strength.  The muscles needed to do this are all jointly connected to the operculum fulcrum joint.  That point where, in an improperly held fish, all the pressure of the fishes body weight – suspended without support – is focused.  When those muscles are strained or injured; let alone torn; the ability to generate the suction necessary to capture prey is greatly reduced or eliminated.

Recovery time is proportionate to the severity of the injury.  In studies conducted on the suction power generated during feeding, results have shown the stresses generated during the feeding process to be just short of resulting in injury themselves. Thus, a fish with an injured muscle or set of muscles, needed for feeding, is just not going to be able to eat.  A fish that cannot eat is a dead fish.  Compound this situation with a competitive population density for available prey, the mortality probability rises to unacceptable levels.  This is a problem that can – and should – be totally avoided.

Solutions: There are several workable solutions to alleviate the problem inherent in the ‘lip grip’ technique.

  • Simply holding the fish with two hands, in a horizontal position will work best.
  • A purely vertical hold, by the lower lip (dentary) will work on smaller fish.
  • Large bodied bass – actually all fish over >3lbs – suffer an elevated potential for internal damage from the vertical position and thus should be avoided.
  • Use of mechanical lip-grip tools have been widely publicized. These tools work very well on restraining large fish – especially those with teeth that obviate a ‘lip grip’ by hand or to remove aggressive hooking methods (treble and barbed hooks) in fresh and saltwater. They are, however, not without their damage potential and controversy.
  • Studies on popular sport angling fish species, like the tarpon and bone fish, have shown mortality rates as high as in the 80% range. Far too high to maintain any kind of a sustainable release population.