How Long Can A Bass Live Out Of Water?

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If you are doing catch and release, you don’t want to keep a bass, or any fish for that matter, out of the water for so long that it will cause pain, physical damage, or even death. Specifically, what we’re talking about here is how long can a bass live out of water?

Bass can live out of water for up to twenty minutes without dying. That said, twenty minutes is a very long time for a fish to go without being in the water, and this does not mean that it will not suffer from any physical damage or pain, just that it won’t die. Realistically, every minute that a fish spends out of water is torture

largemouth bass caught


How Long Can A Bass Stay Out Of Water Before It Dies?

According to various scientific studies performed on this matter, the absolute maximum time that bass or any other fish of this nature can survive out of the water is 20 minutes.

However, 20 minutes is the absolute maximum, and according to studies, in some cases, bass can start to die in as few as 10 or 15 minutes after being caught and not being in the water.

So, for all of you fishermen who want to take a picture with your catch, it is recommended that you do so as quickly as possible.

Get the fish out of the water, get the hook out of the fish, take your picture, and throw it back in (safely), preferably all within about 5 minutes.

The less time that a fish spends out of the water, the lower the risk of anything happening to it.

Remember folks, the way in which bass gills work is that they absorb oxygen out of the water, so if their gills are completely dry and they aren’t submerged, they can’t breathe.

How Long Can A Bass Live In A Bucket?

OK, so you got a bunch of bass, and you want to take them home to prepare them for a great dinner.

However, you don’t have any gear on hand to kill and clean the fish right on the boat, so you first have to take the fish home.

Whether you choose a bucket, a big plastic bag, a cooler, or any other such container, this really isn’t what is in question here.

If you have a bucket or a cooler that is full of water, how long can a bass survive? Of course, since bass need water, they will survive for much longer in a bucket with water, especially if the bucket is open at the top, so it allows oxygen to get into the water.

If you plan on keeping fish alive in a bucket for any prolonged amount of time, especially if you want the fish to be able to breathe, then using an aerator is highly recommended.

How long a bass can survive in a bucket really depends on various factors including how much trauma and stress the fish endured while being caught, the temperature and acidity of the water in the bucket, and how well oxygenated the water is.

If you are using a simple bucket with a lid, then expect the bass to survive for 30 to 60 minutes at most. Just because you have the bass in water, although it will prolong its life by a little bit, will not keep it alive for all that long.

The bass will consume most of the oxygen in a small bucket in a fairly short amount of time, and will then begin to suffocate.

That said, if you have a very large bucket that is aerated, then you can probably push this to a few hours.

The fact here is that if you have a livewell on your boat (a special water-filled container for keeping fish alive on boats), you can keep a bass alive for five to eight hours. Just remember, a livewell and a bucket are not the same things! 

**Beware that in many areas, transporting live freshly caught fish is illegal, so look up your local fishing and fish transportation regulations first!!** 

Tips On How To Safely Catch & Release Bass

If you do plan on doing catch and release fishing for bass, then there are a few tips that you can follow to help ensure a maximum chance of survival.

After all, the whole point of catch and release fishing is to catch a fish, but to keep it alive so it can keep on trucking in the wild, hopefully reproducing and replenishing the fish stock.

Let’s go over some of the most important tips right now;

  • First and foremost, if you have not caught on by now, time is key. The faster you can unhook your fish and put it back into water, the bigger the chances of it surviving. If at all possible, try to take no longer than five minutes for this whole process from front to back.
  • One thing that you need to be aware of here is that fish have slime coats over their skin, which helps to keep them alive, particularly for infection protection. Therefore, when you go to handle fish, always use wet hands. If your hands are dry, it will remove this slime coating. That said, if you cannot grip a fish well enough with wet hands, then you should wear rubberized gloves. Do not wear cotton gloves as they will remove and absorb the slime coating.
  • If need be, if you cannot get a good handle on the fish in the water, use a knotless and rubberized net to remove it from the water. You don’t want to yank on any one part of the fish too hard.
  • To minimize stress to the bass when it is out of the water, always hold it horizontally. Fish swim horizontally and they aren’t used to being vertical, something that can cause them stress to the point of death.
  • If need be, use something like needle nose pliers to remove the hook from the mouth of the fish. Whatever the case may be, whether using your fingers or pliers, make sure to be careful when removing the hook and always follow the curvature of the hook. Don’t just rip the hook out of the mouth of the fish as you will cause irreversible damage that may lead to infection and death.
  • Never stick your fingers in the eyes or gills of the fish, especially the gills. If you damage the gills of the fish, it won’t be able to breathe anymore, and this will undoubtedly lead to death.

Do Bass Die After Being Caught?

A surprising statistic to learn is that up to 50% of bass die in tournament fishing after being caught, and yes, this includes those that are released back into the water.

Although it is not 100% known why bass die in such large numbers after being caught, it is assumed that it is due to the stress and trauma caused by being fished.

Sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes or longer to real a fish in, and each and every single one of those minutes are spent fighting.

This can stress and exhaust fish to the point where they die. Moreover, improper handling may also lead to the death of bass.

So just be aware that just because you are releasing the vast back into the water after having caught it does not mean that it will survive.

In fact, there is a very high chance that the fish will still die even with every proper precaution being taken.



The thought that we want to leave you with here is that time is of the essence. The faster you can get that bass back into the open water, the better its chances of survival!

Jason Downs

I created Fishtackly to share my 30 years of fishing experience and knowledge with others with the aim to help, and hopefully get more people involved and educated in this fantastic hobby that I love.