Cutting through all the old timer fishing stories to sort those that are facts versus just another good yarn isn’t always as easy as you might think. Sometimes stories are based on incidental experiences or one-time situations where the one telling the story thinks they understand the details but doesn’t really.
These are how many fishing stories are born.
Northern pike generally don’t shed their teeth. While it’s possible for pike to lose some teeth due to injury or infection, they don’t “shed” teeth on a regular basis. The story of pike losing their teeth every fall or winter is a myth.
That said, losing a tooth here or there isn’t going to be a big deal for the northern pike, which has hundreds of little razor sharp teeth in its mouth. But it doesn’t make sense to lose them all at any point, and they don’t.
All About Northern Pike Teeth
Pike are ambush predators, and the big members of the Esox family like pike, musky, and tiger musky have the teeth to feed on about anything they can get ahold of and swallow.
In fact, healthy pike have hundreds upon hundreds of teeth. Many of them small, but this is what allows the loss or damage of teeth here and there without being a big deal.
Because there are hundreds in reserve that can be used for the same thing.
Anyone who has been northern fishing knows that these fish are not short on sharp teeth. If you’ve made the mistake of trying to unhook them without needle nose pliers or a jaw grip…well you probably have some nifty scars on your hand to show for it.
While pike and musky can lose teeth from everyday eating, hunting, or injury, these damaged teeth that get jolted out of the mouth are replaced by new ones.
So in that sense, and only that sense, pike can lose their teeth and grow new ones. But this is not a “normal” process, it’s not widespread, it’s not a constant replacing old teeth with new ones.
It’s simply a pike’s body’s reaction to an injury. In the same way a cut on your harm heals once the blood clots, a pike replaces damaged teeth. But teeth don’t “just fall out” in a seasonal manner before getting replaced. That’s not a thing.
What About Stories of Musky/Pike Choking?
These actually are confirmed true. They don’t happen often, but there are verified cases of a big pike or musky being found dead because it choked on prey that was too big for it to swallow.
But this isn’t because the fish had lost its teeth at the time.
Northern pike don’t chew food like people. There’s a huge difference between a person eating and a fish eating. I know, obvious, but it’s easy to forget the obvious when diving down a rabbit hole type question.
Musky and pike don’t choke because they didn’t have any teeth or all their teeth were in the process of re-growing. They choked because their famous appetites got the best of them and they tried to bite off more than they could chew.
That has nothing to do with missing teeth, and everything to do with some over optimistic hunger on the part of these large fish.
How Dangerous Is a Northern Pike’s Bite?
From a standpoint of having a hand or finger bit right off, that’s not a concern with northern pike. While the term “freshwater shark” definitely applies to how these fish stalk, hunt, ambush, and terrorize other fish, people aren’t in danger of losing entire body parts to the very rare pike attack.
Can they slice your finger up to the point of needing surgery to fix tendon or ligament damage? Yes. And they can absolutely gash you to the point of needing stitches.
But the biggest danger to a person from a northern pike bite is going to be the bacteria in the pike’s mouth and the potential infection of your injury. Get treated, see what the damage is, and get some meds to make sure you don’t end up with a nasty infection.
In no time you’ll be back out on the water enjoying your time fishing for these hard fighting freshwater fish!
Pike Teeth FAQ
Q: Do northern pike lose their teeth in the winter?
A: Not sure where this rumor started from but it’s a fisherman’s yarn. The fishing equivalent of an old wives’ tale. Pike do not lose their teeth every winter. That’s not a thing.
Q: Why would a pike lose its teeth?
A: If a pike lost some teeth it’s likely due to damage or possibly a localized infection. They fight hard and like to ambush prey so some damage is to be expected over the years. Pike have hundreds of sharp teeth, so losing a couple is no big deal.
However, if a northern pike has lost, or is losing, most of its teeth then chances are it is sick or dying from infection because there’s no reason for a pike to shed most of its
Q: Is a northern pike’s bite dangerous?
A: A pike isn’t dangerous from the “lose a finger” perspective. Their teeth aren’t big enough to cut through something as thick as your finger or as hard as your bone.
But a pike can slice up your hands/fingers pretty good to the point of needing stitches, and their mouths carry plenty of bacteria so you will want to get medical treatment so you can get the medicine needed to fight off infection.
Q: Can a pike bite your finger off?
A: Short answer: no. We address this more in our post about if pike attack fishermen or not. Give that a bit of a read, or check out our article on confirmed musky attacks for examples of these rare occurrences.
Q: Why do some people think that pike lose all their teeth every winter?
A: In some areas, there are stories of times of the year, especially autumn, when fish’s gums swell up. This could cover up many of the teeth, making it look like there are far fewer teeth than there actually are.
I’m not 100% sure I buy this, and I don’t have first-hand experience seeing this, but no one has fished everywhere and it certainly is a possibility.
No question that you don’t want to put your hand in a northern pike’s mouth for any reason. Ditto for musky and tiger musky. That’s just asking for trouble.
That being said, any teeth that are lost are from some damage or an infection. These will get replaced. But a pike does not have “children’s teeth” that fall out for adult teeth. They don’t lose their teeth every season.
These are fishing myths that might have been convenient excuses for why fishing got so bad during certain seasons, but there isn’t any confirmed fact behind it.