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Yes, we understand that it might be silly to ask do muskie have teeth.
For those of us who have spend a decent amount of time on the water, this is like asking is the sky blue? Is water wet?
That said, for anglers who may just be starting out, or those who only have experience with panfish or bass, this is actually a perfectly valid question. Since we don’t want to see any of our fellow anglers get their hands or fingers chomped off, we also want to prepare them in case they come across one of these freshwater predators.
We also want to make sure that you are prepared to safely handle one of these bruisers in the event you happen to hook up with one.
Decades ago, my grandfather used to carry a metal bat in his boat in case he accidentally hauled in a muskie. We don’t recommend or condone pulling a “Negan” on the fish, though. There are much better ways!
If you have concerns about how to handle a muskie (and its teeth), keep reading.
Do Muskie Have Teeth?
Short answer: Yes, absolutely!
Long answer: Among freshwater species, muskie are perhaps the most notoriously “toothy” fish in the game. These are big, muscular, predatory fish. If you have ever held one, you can literally feel the muscle on these beasts.
And if we know anything about predators, it’s that they usually have a nasty bite!
In that regard, muskie are no different. If a body of water contains muskie, then they will be largest predatory fish in that water. While species like flathead and blue catfish grow larger, muskie are easily the dominant species. When it comes to diet, the aforementioned catfish species are also about the only ones immune to the muskie’s attack, and only when they reach a certain size.
While muskie have roughly a dozen long, sharp, prominent teeth outward the edge of their mouths – these are the “visible” teeth most anglers see – they also have several rows of smaller teeth of varying sizes. In all, many muskie have well over five hundred teeth in their mouths. For larger or older fish, this number can be even higher.
Debates rage online, however, about whether muskie “lose” or “shed” their teeth. Some camps believe that muskie do in fact shed teeth (perhaps to make room for bicuspids or newer teeth), while others believe the species will only lose teeth due to injury.
What Do Muskie Eat?
Rest assured that those teeth are good for more than smiling!
Basically any freshwater fish is potential prey for the muskie. As an ambush predator, muskie eat their meals head-first. Their large stomachs also allow them to consume fish up the two-thirds their body length!
But the muskie is known to eat more than just fish, however. Ducks, rats, mice, frogs, and large species of insects are all staples of the muskie’s diet. While reports are scarce, the species is also known to have attacked both smaller dog breeds and even humans.
Don’t be afraid to take a swim in your local lake or creeks, though (assuming the water is clean enough to do so). Instances of muskie biting humans is so rare that it is essentially a non-factor.
Do You Need a Steel Leader to Catch Muskie?
For many old-school (or at least older-school) muskie anglers, the thought of fishing for the species without a steel leader is insane! Way back in the 90s, I would have never imagined firing a line that didn’t have that added layer of thin, steel protection.
Now, keep in mind that the fishing industry has changed immensely over the past couple decades. Most anglers at the time were still fishing with monofilament, which is thinner and less resistant to abrasion. It goes without saying that a safeguard against a muskie’s toothy bite was needed.
That said, with the rise in popularity (and quality) of both braid and fluorocarbon line over the past two decades, camps are split on the issue. Some believe that fluoro, which is practically invisible to fish, can effectively replace the steel leader at a high enough weight when used as a leader on braid (any by high enough weight, we are talking 100 lb. test or higher, like this Seaguar Blue Label). Traditionalists, however, tend to agree that anything short of steel can lead to broken lines and lost lures – and, even worse, lost fish!
How to Hold a Muskie Without Losing Some Fingers
This may be another “common sense” moment, but we’ll say it anyway: do not try to lip a muskie!
Even if you are wearing thick gloves, this is definitely not the approach to take when holding a muskie. The most commonly practiced (and safest, for both the angler and the fish) involves sliding the fingers along inside the gill plate and tucking your thumb into the groove at the base of the muskie’s jaw. The other hand will usually rest on the fish’s stomach, often right in front of the first set of anal fins.
You will still need to be careful, though, because the muskie’s gills can also slice you up. Your grip should be firm on the gill plate with your fingers tucked tightly as to prevent injury.
For an excellent visual demonstration, check out this video below from Livin’ the Dream Guide Service.