Northern pike are the perfect hunters! Evolution has made this fish the ultimate apex predator and I’m thrilled every time I catch one of those hunting machines. Their teeth are the stuff of nightmares, but they are also extremely fascinating, which is why I wanted to find out more about them.
Northern pike have plenty of smaller needle-like and larger fang-like teeth. In fact, they can have up to 700 of them and all of these teeth are razor-sharp. Pike do not shed all their teeth during winter and they do not bite humans, but they can certainly hurt and injure a fisherman’s hand.
If you’re also wondering if northern pike can bite through fluorocarbon and braid line, or if they could actually manage to bite off a finger, you should definitely keep reading.
Northern Pike Teeth: An Evolutionary Masterpiece
Evolution has made the Northern pike a perfect hunter and killer. Fishermen often refer to pike as “water wolves”, a nickname which is more than apt when it comes to this fish.
This holds especially true when you look at a pike’s teeth; they’ve got some pretty big and scary chompers in their mouths!
Pike have rather large, fang-like teeth, both along the upper and lower jawline. In the frontal area, the teeth are smaller than the ones on the side, but they are more numerous. They are usually also somewhat angled inward.
These teeth, which are somewhat apart from each other (between 0.5-2.5 cm or 0.2-1 inch), are used to grab hold of a prey fish. The pike can literally sink its large teeth into its meal and anchor them there.
On the roof of the pike’s mouth, there are two parallel pads of plenty of tiny, needle-like teeth. These are angled inward as well and perfectly prevent any prey from escaping.
If you were a baitfish and you would end up in a pike’s mouth, you would almost certainly never get out again, unless the pike would loosen its jaw grip on you for a moment.
The pike’s jaw additionally helps to secure a prey fish, by applying an enormous amount of pressure. Pike have rather large heads and hence, their jaws become large and powerful as well.
This lethal combination of sharp large and small teeth, powerful jaws, and an ability to open these jaws extremely wide, makes the Northern pike a well-armed and highly evolved predator.
Its high level of evolution and efficiency is further supported by its geographical distribution, as pike can be found all over the Northern hemisphere; in both Russia, Europe, and North America. Hence, the name Northern pike.
RELATED ARTICLE: When Do Northern Pike Spawn? (Times, Temperatures, Locations)
How Many Teeth Do Pike Have?
If we add all its large and small teeth, a normal-sized pike can have anything between 300 and 700 teeth in its mouth.
Most of these would however belong to the pads on the roof of its mouth (the small needle-like ones). These make up around 90% of its teeth. The large, fang-like teeth are actually quite few in number.
These can however grow to an enormous size. I myself have caught pike with teeth of at least 2 cm (0.8 inches).
I actually keep one as a trophy in my wallet, from a pike I caught on the ice many years ago. That tooth was stuck in the baitfish that the pike still had in its mouth when I landed it, pretty cool!
RELATED READING: Make sure to also check out this article if you want to know how to tell if a pike is male or female
You definitely have respect for a tooth-like that, I can tell you that much. There is a newspaper article that talks of a dead pike skull that was found near the River Cherwell in the UK.
This enormous pike is said to have weighed 50 lbs and had a total of 700 teeth in its mouth.
The skull alone measured 12 inches and it actually contained teeth that were over 1 inch in length! That is one big mother of a pike!
Do Northern Pike Really Shed Their Teeth?
There are many folklore and tales when it comes to Northern pike and this is definitely one of the more interesting varieties.
Many fishermen in the U.S. proclaim that Northern pike shed all, or most of their teeth once a year. Other U.S. fishermen disregard it as a fairy tale. So, is it true or not?
In Europe, most anglers have not even heard of this theory and it is certain to say that European pikes do not shed their teeth.
Of course, this could be a regional phenomenon that only happens in North America. However, this appears to be rather unlikely, for these three main reasons:
- There is a lack of scientific data that pike would shed their teeth
- Too many US fishermen do not share this belief
- The statement is conflicted, as some say the pike shed their teeth in winter, while others say it takes place during summer
RELATED READING: Did you know that there are some regions in the world in which pike can live in saltwater?
On the other hand, there is pretty solid data that confirms that pike do not shed their teeth once a year. According to a study made in Lake Ontario, researchers found out that there is no measurable loss of teeth or any indication of gum weakness in Northern Pike.
This is not to say that pike do not lose some of their teeth at times! On the contrary, this happens fairly often.
For example during the spawning season, when things are heating up, or when a pike bites into a rather hard scale, fin, or bone of a prey fish. All of the lost teeth usually grow back though.
Do Pike Bite Humans?
Not intentionally, no! It is understandable that people would get afraid when they see or hear about big pikes in lakes where they are taking a swim. But the chance, or risk, of a pike actually attacking and biting a human in the water, is close to zero!
Of course, lots of fishermen get “bitten” by pikes when trying to unhook them. This is a very delicate and challenging task, especially when you have a very big pike in the net and you have to try to get several trebles out of that mouth!
How things can end up in such a situation can be seen in the image above. But that is not an intentional bite per se!
These tools and can help prevent serious injuries from pike teeth:
- a jaw spreader
- long-nose pliers
- an unhooking mat
- a landing net
Pro Tip: No matter how small or big the pike I catch are, I always like to wear armored gloves when handling them, as it’s just so much safer! This way, I avoid getting bitten and can fully concentrate on unhooking the fish. Check out a pair of really good cut and puncture-proof fish handling gloves on Amazon.
Could a Pike Bite Your Finger Off?
No, it could not. Its teeth are simply not strong enough to bite through a human finger bone. Technically, the larger teeth could penetrate through to a bone in your finger, but they could not bite them off.
But be careful nonetheless, as these teeth can definitely skin your fingers or your entire hand! Similar to a baitfish, if your finger or hand is in that mouth when it snaps shut, it is bound to stay there.
Pro Tip: Under no circumstances, try to pull out your hand from a closed pike mouth!
If and when that happens, remain calm (even though it’ll hurt a lot)! Do not try to instinctively pull out your finger or hand, but try to open the pike’s mouth again first!
Then, carefully remove your finger or hand and try to patch things up (there will be blood!).
And make sure to always have a first aid kit with you when fishing for toothy predators. You can purchase a complete and waterproof kit on Amazon.
If you want to start pike fishing and need to gear up, make sure to check out this helpful buyer’s guide I wrote:
Can Pike Bite Through Fluorocarbon?
Moving forward to less dangerous pike bites! Yes, pike can bite through fluorocarbon line, even though they will have a hard time doing so if you use a suitable diameter.
The fact that fluorocarbon line is practically invisible underwater can of course be considered advantageous when using it as a leader.
But, it is absolutely essential that you use a fluorocarbon leader of at least 80lb, which is a pound test that has worked very well for my own pike fishing.
RELATED READING: Make sure to read up on the best and most suitable pike leaders (both wire and fluorocarbon)
Even with such a diameter, though, it remains crucial that you check your fluorocarbon leader fairly often, as every pike bite can worsen its abrasion resistance. Better safe than sorry, right?
Can Pike Bite Through Braid?
Here, the answer is a more solid yes, unfortunately. Many fishermen use braided line when fishing for pike, and that is perfectly fine if it is used as the mainline!
As braid has fairly low abrasion resistance, pike will have an easy time biting through it. And therefore, it is absolutely not suitable as a leader material when the target fish is northern pike.
Many people prefer this material over monofilament for their mainline. If you use braid, just make sure you are using either the above-mentioned extra-thick fluorocarbon leader or a simple wire leader at the end of your braided mainline.
Essential Tackle Tips
If you’re looking for solid and reliable pike fishing equipment, these tips might be useful for you.
The following tackle is of top quality and sells at a very reasonable price on Amazon:
A versatile and beautifully made medium-heavy 7′ baitcasting rod that’s perfect for bigger predators. Casts anything up to 2 ounces extremely well. Has an awesome balance, action, and sensitivity.
An affordable high-performance baitcasting reel with amazing strength. Casts super smoothly and will last you forever! Makes for a great pike combo together with the St. Croix rod.
Mainline: Power Pro Spectra
One of the best braids available today. Zero stretch, great feel, and immense strength make this line the perfect pick for pike in both open and snaggy waters. Put on a 30lb test and you’re good to go.
Related Predator Articles
If you want to learn more about the northern pike and muskie, you should also check out these articles:
- Northern Pike (Complete Species Guide With Pictures)
- Pike vs Musky (How to Tell Them Apart)
- Muskie Teeth (Pictures, Facts, And Myths)
Feature image courtesy of Johnny Delaney