The northern pike is known for its ferocious attacks and almost endless appetite, willing to attach and eat everything from other fish to frog and even small birds that land too close to the water. It is also famous for its toothy grin, with row upon row of sharp teeth that are said to be sharp as razors. But how much of this is fact and what is a myth, fish tales told by those who exaggerated the size of the teeth as they do that of their catch?
The northern pike is surrounded by myth and fantasy, many of which center around its famous teeth. Anglers claim they lose their teeth during winter, making them near impossible to catch. Swimmers fear they will be bitten as the unfortunate birds are if they wade in the waters they inhabit. Still, others claim the northern pike shreds its prey, a trait which allows it to eat much larger prey than other freshwater species. It is often hard to tell fact from fiction, especially when the fact is almost as hard to believe as make-believe.
Fact for Fiction?
Let’s examine some of the so-called facts and see which are real and which are angler tall tales – some of the answers might surprise you, and others might just make you understand the northern pike a little better, which in turn could help you catch more!
“Do northern pike shed their teeth? If so, does this happen in the summer as some anglers believe?”
No, the northern pike does not shed its teeth. Like all animals who have teeth, the northern pike will lose teeth occasionally for a variety of reasons including injury, illness and even old age. Their teeth are often replaced if others are available, if not they end up with a gap same as you or I.
“If they do not lose their teeth in summer why are they so hard to catch?”
It is true that northern pike can be more difficult to catch during the heat of summer, but it has little to do with they suspected loss of teeth. This rumor probably started after an angler, who had experienced a dry spell, finally caught a pike and noticed broken or missing teeth from a recent injury and surmised that was why his luck had been so poor. The truth is a northern pike, like many freshwater species, become difficult to catch in the late summer because of the higher water temperatures. The increased temperatures drive fish to deeper, cooler water where they are more difficult to reach. Those that do enter shallow nearshore areas are often sluggish and less likely to bite.
“Do northern pike attack people?”
While it is possible that a northern pike would bite a swimmer or even someone dangling their feet or fingers in the water it is rare and likely a mistake rather than an intentional attack. It is true that pike will attack almost anything it can make a meal of, but they also realize that even a small human is too large to make a meal of. When humans are bitten it is often the result of accidentally sticking their fingers in or near the mouth while attempting to remove a hook or when taking a picture after a catch. Stick your finger in any animal’s mouth, and there is a good chance you will be bitten.
“Is it true the northern pike shreds its prey?”
Although this is one of the most repeated claims regarding the northern pike and its teeth, there is no evidence to support it. Again, it is probably rooted in a misinterpreted observation by an angler. As stated previously, the northern pike has multiple rows of teeth including some designed to hold prey int the mouth once caught. If an angler where to catch a pike and see prey that had been trapped in these teeth, it is possible the puncture wounds caused by the multiple rows would appear to have shredded the flesh. Truth is the northern pike bites, holds and chews its prey the same as most animals. The difference between the northern pike and other freshwater species it the combination of its size, power, and teeth allows it to attack, grab and overtake prey bigger than those other species.
How many teeth does the northern pike have and how large are they?
The specific answer depends on the size of the individual fish, but records indicate the average adult northern pike has between 300-500 teeth. The largest pike ever caught was estimated to have as many as 700 teeth. As far as size is concerned, this again depends on the size of the fish. There are also various size teeth located in different parts of the mouth. The largest of these teeth can be as long as 1 inch in length, although the average tooth is closer to ½ inch in length and most are much smaller. Of course, even the smallest northern pike teeth can inflict a terrible bite as they are all razor sharp and pointed like a spear tip.
Can the northern pike bite through the fishing line?
Yes, it can bite through most fishing line. They can cut through monofilament like a hot knife through butter. Even fluorocarbon, which is known for its extra strength, gives way to the razor edges of pike’s teeth without much resistance. Some anglers turn to a braided line as a defense against the pike’s predatory teeth, but this too eventually fails. Although the braided line is much stronger than either monofilament or fluorocarbon and is more difficult to cut it too can be defeated. The only true means of defeating the sharp teeth of the northern pike is wire. You either use wireline, which requires specialized rod & reel or you add a wire leader to your rig.
What should I do if bitten by a northern pike?
First, do not pull your finger from their mouth. Along with the row of teeth visible along their jawline northern pike also possess additional rows of teeth behind those and designed to hold prey in place. If you attempt to pull your finger free, you will likely increase the damage. Instead, you should try to force the mouth open and then remove your finger. It is likely that you will have suffered severe lacerations, especially from a larger pike, so you will need to stop the bleeding and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Because the pike eats a wide range of prey, it is also likely their mouth will contain various bacteria capable of causing an infection, yet another reason medical attention should be sought.
How do you catch a northern pike?
So, how is an angler expected to defeat such a monster, the water wolf? You take steps to overcome its defenses and take advantage of its natural tendencies. The wire leader will allow you to defeat the primary defense – the sharp teeth. A stiff rod & reel outfitted with heavy test line will defeat its strength. Now you need to play to its weaknesses – the natural desire to feed. Live bait is best as that is what a predator wants – prey it can chase and attack. If natural bait is not available, there are many life-like lures available to trick the pike. Once it strikes, let it take the bait before you attempt to set the hook. Remember those additional rows of teeth designed to hold its prey? You need to allow the fish time to firmly grasp the prey, taking it into those teeth, so that when you set the hook BOTH the hook and the extra teeth will continue to hold during the upcoming fight.
Finally, you need to be prepared for a fight. The northern pike, even a smaller member of the species, is built for speed and fighting. It will fight as if its life depends on winning, and it may, so you need to be ready to fight back.
There you have it – everything you ever wanted to know about the northern pike and its teeth —and then some.