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Northern pike are the stuff of legends

Tricia Drake holds up a toothy Long Lake northern pike as husband Joel admires the fish. Tricia caught the fish on a nightcrawler and 8-pound test line. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

The young boy and his father were standing on the local fishing pier, lofting big round bobbers over the rails to hopefully bring home dinner. I approached and asked what was biting to which the father replied, "Not much, just a few tiny perch."

Upon further examination, I noticed both lines had hooks that were much too large for a sunfish or crappie, even though catching those species was their actual goal, and each line had a thick, steel leader tied on before the hook. I inquired about the wire leaders, since catching panfish wouldn't require such heavy-duty hardware.

"Just in case we hook into a pike," the father answered.

Northern pike definitely have a set of teeth that can slice through fishing line with little effort.

Their continuous rows of teeth hanging from their upper-jaw, accompanied by the longer ones protruding up along the perimeter of their lower jaw make northern pike an intriguing spectacle.

However, steel leaders aren't necessarily the answer for landing a big northern. We've all heard a story or two about a big northern or even muskie that was landed on super-light line.

Sometimes those light lines actually work better for northern pike since the monofilament or braided line can actually embed between their teeth. It's much like dental floss, easily sliding in between the teeth rather than coming into contact with its sharp sides.

Walleye, on the other hand, don't have razor sharp rows of teeth like a northern or muskie, but reveal a smattering of cone shaped teeth. Whereas the northern will fiercely attack its prey to temporarily stun it or kill it, the walleye uses its teeth to simply grab on to forage like minnows, leeches, nightcrawlers and crawfish to ensure it doesn't escape.

Though some anglers believe that northern pike lose their teeth during specific times of the year, it's not necessarily the case.

Northern pike can lose teeth from a battle with prey, but their teeth don't simply fall out. However, there are times when the pike's equivalent of a gum-line swell and make the teeth less noticeable. Yet don't get overly confident that their teeth have truly fallen out, for sticking your hand inside the gaping maw of a northern pike would certainly require band-aids, stitches or even a trip to the emergency room.

After landing a big northern, people often have second thoughts about entering the water to swim, tube or water-ski, as they entertain visions of a pike attack.

Though possible, it's highly unlikely that a northern pike or muskie would attack a human; their fear is as great as their ferocity.

The majority of injuries while encountering a northern pike are not because of the fish's foul mood, but inattentiveness on behalf of the angler. Since northern pike are long and muscular, a spastic shake of their head or body after being caught, even while in the landing net, can easily bury the anglers' lure into an approaching hand at no true fault of the fish.