The northern pike is known by many names, several of them involving not appropriate for young ears language after they throw a hook towards your face, bite off the line with your favorite lure at the end of it, or gash your hands with their rows of razor sharp teeth while you’re unhooking them.
If you’ve ever caught a gash from a row of pike teeth, you might have some questions about them yourself.
Pike are called sea wolves for a reason, and it’s not just other fish that they like to take a piece out of. As an angler who has some noticeable scars on the back of the hands – I totally get it. Those rows of razor sharp teeth are quite a sight, and off the top of my head I can’t think of another fish that compares to them!
Aside from muskies of course, but since they’re in the same family, doesn’t really count.
So what makes pike teeth special? Why do people want to know about them? Do pike lose their teeth? Do they grow them back? Can pike teeth bite through a finger?
Well time to separate the fish stories from facts so let’s do a deep dive on everything you’ve ever wanted to know about northern pike teeth.
Northern Pike Teeth: The Basics
Anyone who has caught even a single northern pike is going to be familiar with the rows and rows and rows of razor sharp teeth.
The front “fangs” throughout the upper and bottom lips would be enough by themselves for the pike to earn its nickname of “water wolf” but then there are seemingly endless rows of teeth on the roof of the mouth only reinforce the fact that the pike is top of the underwater food chain.
Full-sized adult northern pike have up to 700 razor sharp teeth in their mouths that are more than capable of cutting through braided fishing line, fluorocarbon fishing line, or leaving a nasty cut on an angler’s hand. Despite rumors and fish stories there is no biological evidence that pike shed their teeth naturally over their lifetime.
Pike are ambush predators who put all those razor sharp teeth to use, and while some anglers undo a hook with bare hands…I personally would NOT recommend this.
We’ll go over tools you’ll want for keeping your hands safe(er) from getting bit by a pike, but right now we’re going to look at some basic northern pike teeth facts, as well as some of the more interesting pike teeth facts that you might not be aware of.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll know all about a pike’s mouth inside and out. And probably have a newfound respect for these underwater hunters.
Northern Pike Teeth: Perfect for an Underwater Predator
If you wanted to design the perfect freshwater fish predator then you would be hard pressed to design a mouth that is better for that role than what a northern pike brings to the table.
The pike’s mouth can open incredibly wide, powered by a jaw that has very strong force for a freshwater fish. Their large head means they can sense well and are designed to be a top of the food chain fish since that means their jaw will always be large in proportion to size.
The large sharp teeth combined with the “slice and dice” rows of razor sharp teeth on top of the jaw mean smaller fish, frogs, birds, and animals and even other smaller northern pike are in for a bad time.
How Many Teeth Do Northern Pike Have?
Even small pike have hundreds of teeth in their mouths, but larger adult pike can have even more. The pike’s mouth is designed for being top of the food chain. If there’s room for more teeth, they will grow in.
A full adult pike can have up to 700 teeth in its mouth, while even the smallest pike will have a minimum of 300 teeth.
As the pike grows, more teeth will come in to fill out the mouth. This is how they gain teeth over their lifetime.
While the fang teeth up front definitely get a lot of attention for their sharp needle like shape, and while I definitely would not want to get stuck by and of them, most of the pike teeth will be in small rows on the upper jaw follows up with a shredding for unfortunate prey.
How big are northern pike teeth?
The fangs grow based on size and age, but the big pike teeth grow up to 1 inch in size with the smaller rows of razor teeth most commonly varying from .2 to .4 inches in length.
These teeth will be slightly smaller in little pike and will reach the upper end of these ranges in the big trophy-sized pike that you can pull out of the best pike waters in the world right now.
Do northern pike have teeth in their gills?
Pike do not have teeth in their gills, BUT this isn’t as far fetched of a story as it might sound. The truth is that because of the way the jaws are placed and the gills are located on the large head of the pike, if an angler tries to hold a pike, their fingers are likely to scrape teeth that are in the mouth.
Especially if they try to hold a pike like other common and popular freshwater fish.
So pike do not have teeth in their gills, but if you’re going to hold them by the gills you need to be very careful about finger placement to make sure you don’t inadvertently shred your hand.
The Pike’s Unique Teeth Setup
The number of rows of teeth that a pike has is going to vary for an obvious reason: the pike’s mouth is not an orderly or engineered set of rows and columns. Depending how you count, many average sized pike have 13-17 rows of teeth depending on how you count, but even these are rough estimates.
Look at the picture above. There are some clear “rows” of teeth but then there are teeth popping up between those rows or two rows of pike teeth will seem to combine into a circular “pool” of teeth.
So when someone wants to know how many rows of teeth a pike has the best (or at least most accurate) answer you can hope for is “a lot.”
How Often Do Northern Pike Lose Their Teeth?
There are more questions asked in fishing forums and Google about when/how/why pike lose their teeth than any other related topics. The debates on this topic get pretty interesting, as you can imagine.
So one very reliable source pulled from a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website via the Wayback Machine comes from DNR Fish Biologist Don Pereira (who is now Senior Fisheries Biologist according to his last LinkedIn update) “Northerns may occasionally lose teeth in an unfortunate run-in with particularly tough prey or bait, but there’s no evidence they do so regularly.”
So in other words if you’re an angler who believes that most of the stories about pike losing teeth as a seasonal thing sounds a lot like a wives’ tale then you’re likely correct based on what the science of northern pike shows.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t run into northern pike missing a tooth or two in the summer (though as an experienced pike angler I’d like to know how the hell you could tell, barring having several of them sticking out of an ungloved hand that got too close) but this is not due to a natural seasonal cycle.
So how often, when, and why do pike lose their teeth?
Do Northern Pike Lose Their Teeth in the Summer?
If there are local rumors that pike regularly lose their teeth in summer then it might be a sign that the waters are not completely healthy in your area, especially when it comes to bacteria. Why?
Because some water bacteria can thrive in hot temperatures, which makes summer a season where certain bodies of water are more inclined to breed the bacteria that can cause infection, which could cause some unhappy pike to get ill and start losing teeth.
The two most likely causes of pike losing teeth in summer:
- Pike lose teeth due to infection (normally caused by bacteria)
- Pike lose teeth due to pollution-related illness or infection
Outside of infection or illness, the only other likely causes would be:
- Extreme age causing some tooth loss in the largest pike nearing the end of their life cycle or
- Teeth that were damaged due to hitting really tough lures resulting in damaged teeth
So if there is major tooth loss of pike in an area, there’s an outside factor. It’s not seasonal.
Do Northern Pike Lose Their Teeth in the Winter?
If you were hoping that northern pike would lose their teeth in winter since the summer has been pretty thoroughly disproven, you’re about to be disappointed. Northern pike do not lose their teeth in winter due to natural reasons.
The reason the story of pike losing teeth in the winter has gained so much steam is likely due struggles catching pike in winter when they tend to retreat to really deep water, and where it can be hard to catch pike with the most common lures used for ice fishing.
There’s a reason there are so many stories of pike being caught ice fishing when they swallowed the fish that actually took the bait.
Pike don’t lose their teeth in the winter – but it makes for a good story from anglers for why they couldn’t bring any in that day.
Jump ahead to 8:20 and beyond in the video below and you’ll see an awful lot of big pike that still have plenty of teeth in their mouth!
Outstanding Pike Ice Fishing Video – They Seem To Still Have Teeth!
What Time of Year Do Northern Pike Lose Their Teeth?
If the pike is healthy, it shouldn’t be losing teeth based on the time of year. As discussed in the previous two sections, this is one of the more bizarre fish stories that has somehow gained legs with anglers.
If there are clear signs of tooth loss, there are going to be a few main potential causes:
Pike lose teeth due to sickness
Sickness can lead to a pike losing teeth. This can be the result from various diseases that can infect fish in an area, but often can be traced back to an infection of some type.
While the root cause of infections causing pike to lose their teeth will vary based on area, sickness is going to be one of the most common causes.
- Bacterial infection
- Infection via injury
- Infection/sickness from pollution
These are going to be the most common causes of northern pike losing fish to sickness.
Pike lose teeth due to damage
Northern pike can lose teeth due to damage. This is often from when they slam into a hard lure that ends up chipping their teeth. In healthy pike that are young or average age these can get pushed out of the mouth to make room for a new tooth.
But with 300-700 teeth in the mouth, a loss of a couple teeth isn’t going to be a big deal in the lifetime of a northern pike. There are plenty of small razor blades right there in the mouth to take the place of one little missing tooth. Or even a few dozen.
Damage does happen and can explain the loss of one or a few teeth.
Pike lose teeth due to age
Old enough pike can lose teeth due to old age. This is not something that happens naturally or because of season. But this can be sustained injuries over many years of life, loosening of muscles, or just straight up old age at the end of the life cycle.
Tools to Protect Your Hands from Pike Bites
There are a few tools that can help lesson your chances of getting some new scars on the fingers and hands when you are unhooking a northern pike.
I tend to use the gloves, net, and pliers. Jaw spreaders I’m just not used to them enough to use them while other northern anglers that I know absolutely swear by them.
Find the combination that works best for you.
Tools to Safely Land Pike
- Fishing gloves
- Jaw spreader
- Landing net
- Needle nose pliers
Recommended Fishing Gloves: Rapala No-Slip Fisherman’s Gloves
Not only is Rapala one of the most trusted names in business, but I have giant hands and have found these to be great fitting gloves that work even for me. That makes a huge difference and is why I pick them over several other brands of fishing gloves.
They’re not perfect, but they’re a solid layer of protection against pike teeth that are warm, comfortable, and don’t limit my finger flexibility.
Recommended Landing Net: EGO S2 Sliding Fishing Net
We actually wrote an entire article on the best pike fishing nets and the only three nets that made the grade from our experience going pike fishing.
Recommended Needle Nose Fishing Pliers: KastKing Cutthroat Fishing Pliers
These are simply the best fishing pliers in the business. They are reliable, extremely well-made, and keep your fingers away from a pike’s mouth. That’s a winning combination in my book.
Recommended Jaw Spreader: Booms Fishing Z1 Fish Mouth Spreader
This is the one my pike angling friends swear by, so who am I to argue? Ken’s verbose review was “Simple and effective.” That about says it all, doesn’t it?
Common Pike FAQ
Will northern pike bite after dark?
This is a question after my own heart because we’re back to looking at how to actually catch northern pike as opposed to worrying about whether or not they are going to gash our hands while trying to unhook a favorite crankbait. So while not quite on topic, the general answer I’ve seen is that most pike are relatively lazy at night at most locations, but some decent fishing is still possible.
If you want to go night fishing for pike you’ll find the best luck an hour after nightfall during an especially hot day, or an hour before sunrise going into the early morning. Use lures that make noise or put off light because pike don’t have the eyes of an eagle – you’ll need to use all the tricks in your tackle box to get them to strike 🙂
What is the bite force of a pike?
Strangely enough there actually was a scientific study on the bite force of a pike. A combined study from the University of Southern Florida (USF) and Allegheny College showed the bite force of a pike at 44.0 N. This is about 30-40% less than the barracuda it was compared to.
Both were well, well short of the 154 N needed in order to straight out bite off a finger. So if someone asks if a northern pike can bite off a finger you can tell them that it is literally scientifically proven that a pike cannot.
Can a northern pike bite off your finger?
A pike does not have the bite force nor big enough teeth to bite off a finger. They can give a really nasty gash, but you’re not going to lose a digit handling these fish.
How often to pike attack people?
This occurs very rarely and, like when muskie attacks happen, is almost certainly due to them mistaking a foot, a hand, or other body part for food. Once they realize their mistake, they let go and swim away from whatever it is that’s bigger than them.
This can lead to some nasty gashes and there are records of the damage being enough on a foot to require surgery to repair the tendons and deep flesh cuts, but that is very rare.
We’re not counting when pikes throw hooks or gash at anything approaching them in the boat because at that point, hey, that’s one of the hazards of pike fishing.
Do pike have sharp teeth?
Yeah, pike have incredibly sharp teeth. They can slice up prey or give a careless angler a pretty nasty gash if they let their guard down.
Do northern pike lose their teeth naturally?
Pike do not just lose teeth naturally. There is no season where pike lose their teeth, it either happens due to injury or disease.
I guess it’s not too hard to see why so many anglers would be interested in northern pike teeth. Stories abound about these fish and considering the nasty gash they’re more than happy to give it shouldn’t be too surprising, especially among fishermen who have experienced that unfortunate pain first-hand.
The northern pike is an interesting fish and the big tooth-filled maw of a northern pike mouth is something to behold, especially the first time you see it!
Now you know all there is to know about northern pike teeth and should be ready to keep your fingers clear when it counts!
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