Walleye Teeth Facts: All You Need To Know

close up picture of a walleye showing its teeth and being held

Many anglers may have heard about walleye predatory fish teeth but have not experienced them, or may have just recently experienced them and are intimidated by the size and number of the teeth present in the mouth cavity. 

Luckily, the teeth of this species are not made for harming humans though handling the walleye poorly may lead to minor cuts and punctures from the teeth. They are not very sharp teeth and are not made to intentionally harm humans. Instead, they are made to grab and hold other fish.

How Many Teeth Do Walleyes Have?

Fisherman holding a big walleye
Average-sized walleye can have up to 40 teeth.

While the number of teeth a walleye has will depend on its size, the average-sized walleye will have a total of up to 40 teeth. These canine teeth can be a one-half inch in length or larger for fully mature fish. 

In addition to the canine teeth, you will find each walleye has smaller ones filling its mouth as well. These smaller teeth are spaced out thoroughly on the upper and lower jaw to give the walleye a menacing look. Anglers prefer to target walleye when ice fishing, but may have been intimidated more than once by the teeth.

What Kind of Teeth Do Walleye Have?

Big walleye with lure in mouth being held excellent
The menacing look of the walleye

Walleye can look very vicious with their vampire looking teeth placement. The front of their mouth includes large and small pointed canines used to bite prey items. While these teeth are pointed, they are blunt and not as razor sharp as the teeth in a pike or muskie which can share the same waterways.

The most visible teeth in the front are also the largest, and you will normally see a set of four of them, the same as you would on a pike. When fishing and hooked and landed, many new anglers are intimidated by the menacing look of the walleye and can be somewhat timid of reaching in to remove the hooks.

In addition to the large teeth that are easily noticeable, a closer inspection can show even more teeth on the upper and lower jaw as well as down the throat and towards the gill cover of the walleye. Walleye teeth placement are very similar to the teeth of a pike and the two fish may be mistaken for one another when fishing in the lake, especially if fishing in low light conditions.

How Walleye Use Their Teeth

Walleye use their teeth to grab and secure live bait and they go for jigs like this one.

Many new and inexperienced walleye fishing anglers assume that the walleye’s teeth are made to do damage to humans, and they can be hesitant to place their hands anywhere near the mouth of the walleye in order to remove the hooks during fishing fearing a walleye bite. Pike anglers are experienced with aggressive fish, and walleye are not nearly as aggressive.

The main purpose of these jagged pointy teeth is for the walleye to grab and secure live baitfish prey when hunting in the lake. Walleye have good eyesight even in lakes with low visibility, and this is the main food source of the species. This style of teeth can not only grab baitfish when they bite but hold tightly onto them as they struggle to get free.

Smaller teeth further in the mouth of the walleye can help move the prey item down into the stomach of the walleye for digestion. Since these small prey fish will need to be positioned head first, the walleye needs to ensure they can hold the prey tightly while they try to manipulate it into position to swallow.

Are Walleye Teeth Sharp Enough to Injure

Walleye’s teeth are blunt and can’t seriously damage your skin.

When you compare the teeth of a walleye to the teeth of a pike, for example, you will notice the shape and placement is similar. However, the walleye’s teeth are much blunter and not made for puncturing tough materials or skin.

Many beginner fishermen are hesitant to handle walleye and remove the hooks when fishing because they fear they may be bitten by the walleye. While you can get minor punctures and scrapes from the teeth if you handle the walleye improperly, these teeth are not specifically made to seriously damage your skin or digits.

When removing a hook from fishing, it is highly advised to use gloves or a pair of fishing hook removal pliers. This not only makes it easier to reach the fishing hooks in the walleye’s large sized mouth, but also protects your hands from any potential injuries.

Walleye can live in the same areas as pike and muskie, which both have very sharp and potentially dangerous teeth. So if you are new to fishing, be sure the animal you have landed is in fact a target walleye and not the more dangerous pike or muskie.

Can Walleye Teeth Cut Line?

The teeth of a walleye are rather spread out so having them bite through a fishing line directly is extremely rare and likely will not happen, even if you use a thicker fishing line that has more surface area to be cut. If you specifically target walleye when fishing, it’s highly recommended to use a fluorocarbon leader to help prevent line break at the worst possible time.

Since some line is more prone to abrasion damage than other line, this can become an issue, especially if you use braided or monofilament line. This type of fishing line is much more prone to abrasion damage than fluorocarbon and can very easily be damaged or even completely cut simply due to abrasion damages.

Can Walleye Bite You?

In general, walleye are not out to harm a fisherman intentionally. They won’t attack you if you place your hand in the water and chances are good they won’t damage you even when hooked and hauled into a boat.

However, walleye teeth can cause minor damages to your skin and hands if you handle the walleye improperly. This is normally when attempting to remove the hooks without using gloves or a pair of pliers. Or if you go around intentionally putting your fingers in the walleye’s mouth, you are prone to getting a good biting.

Damage caused by walleye teeth will be minor but can be an infection risk if not treated. The puncture or cut should be cleaned thoroughly with fresh water and covered with a bandage to keep dirt out of the wound. Antibiotics are recommended as well to prevent infections from setting in due to the bacteria in the mouth of the walleye and the water it came out of.

How to Hold a Walleye Properly

Walleye being hled by fisherman caught on a jig head
Walleye have a slime coating on their entire body making them slippery and hard to hold.

Small walleye that do not weigh much can be held with one hand right behind their heads near the gill area. Your fingers should be around the diameter of the body and remain near the gill area and in front of the dorsal fin. This will provide secure holding as well as help restrict the movement of the walleye, as well as restrict the potential danger of the teeth.

When walleye fishing and handling the big ones, experienced anglers can put their fingers underneath the gill plates. However, be extremely careful not to intentionally be putting your fingers too deep that you damage the red part of the gill feathers. This part of the walleye is vital for respiration and of course damaging them can cause the walleyes to drown.

After placing your finger under the gill plates, try to support the weight of the walleye under the belly. This is a great way to hold the walleye for a photo opportunity as well. On larger walleyes, always try to support the body weight in some way as simply holding a heavy walleye by the gill plate can cause permanent physical damage to the walleye.

Walleye, like all fish, have a slime coating on their entire body. This is what makes them slippery and hard to hold. When handling walleyes, always try to have wet hands instead of dry. This will help prevent the slime coating from being stripped from the walleyes scales. Keeping the slime coat in place will help the walleye remain healthy after being returned to the water.

Stress from the capture can reduce the walleyes ability to heal naturally, and if you damage the slime coating in the process you run the risk of that walleye contracting a severe bacterial or fungal infection on any cuts or scrapes it received while being caught and landed. As a responsible angler that practices catch and release, you want to try and ensure the walleye is returned to the water in the best possible condition so that it may continue to live and grow.

Do Walleye Lose Their Teeth?

As with most toothed fish, including sharks, walleye will lose and regrow their teeth naturally throughout their entire life. Their teeth start growing in their juvenile stage and will regrow as needed until the day the walleye dies. The teeth do not seem to regrow with any seasonal effects and instead can be replaced at any time throughout the year.

When a walleye loses a tooth, a new one will grow into that place over several days to a couple weeks. The process is somewhat slow. The teeth are layered similar to a shark and will slowly move into position as needed. This is to ensure the fish always has strong and healthy teeth to catch live fish which is the entire food item the walleye depends on.

How Walleye Anglers can Handle Fish Safely

angler with walleye on small boat on sunny day
Ensure the fish can live to be caught another day to give another angler the same joy you got from landing this amazing fish.

For both new and experienced anglers walleye fishing, removing the hooks from a walleye can lead to minor puncture wounds and cuts on your hands and fingers from the somewhat sharp teeth. Handling the fish is rather simple and on small fish you can grab behind the head near the gills and hold it with one hand while removing the hook from the walleye’s mouth with the other hand. Handling the fish wrongly can lead to permanent physical damage that can harm or even kill the fish.

On larger fish, you can attempt to secure the fish by holding onto a gill plate while removing the hooks. However, depending on the weight of the fish this can potentially cause physical damage to the fish. Also, if you are inexperienced in this holding method it is best to avoid doing it. If you reach too far under the gill plate, you can damage the gills themselves which will prevent the fish from being able to breathe properly. If you know how to handle large bass, walleye handling is the same.

In order to ensure the fish has a stress-free and humane experience being released, you can remove the hook from the fish while it is still contained in a landing net. Leaving the body of the fish in the water will help protect the fish’s natural slime coat and keep their scales in good physical condition.

The slime coat is the fish’s natural protective covering and will help prevent bacterial and fungal infections if they get abraded by the net or cut when being handled. The entire point of catch and release is to ensure the fish can live to be caught another day to give another angler the same enjoyment you just got from landing this amazing fish. This is the same for all fish including bass, pike and muskie.

Final Thoughts on Walleye Teeth

While they might look intimidating, walleye fish are not dangerous or aggressive towards humans by their nature. Their teeth are jagged and pointed, but are made to catch and hold onto smaller fish which the walleye eat, similar to bass eating habits.

Walleye fish can be a very fun and energetic target to land in the summer, and will give you a good fight if that is your goal. Removing the hook can be done safely and effectively by using gloves or a set of hook-removing pliers

Author

  • Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He is a regular on fly fishing podcasts and appeared in the international fly fishing film Predator.

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