Most species of fish are capable of biting, but there’s quite a bit of difference in what that might mean for you.
The giant and docile whale shark, which feeds on microscopic plankton, has a mouth into which you could slide your hand. You might even feel rough surfaces there, but a “bite” - no way!
By contrast, the angry maw of a barracuda is filled with razor-sharp teeth, and its predatory diet and attraction to shiny objects like rings, watches, and even the metal pieces of diving equipment mean that people have been bitten by them.
And all those aggressive teeth can cause serious damage!
Let’s break this question down a bit and give you the kind of answer you really want.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Freshwater Game Species
- 2 Saltwater Game Species
- 3 Final Thoughts
Freshwater Game Species
Panfish: Perch, Bluegill, Trout, Crappie, Sunfish, Smallmouth Bass
These commonly caught - and highly sought after - species have expandable mouth parts, and though they prey on fish, insects, and aquatic invertebrates, they lack true teeth.
If you look hard enough, you’ll see some patches that resemble sand paper, essentially rough portions of their mandible designed to allow them to grip their prey.
They don’t bite, however, and you can safely handle them, carefully hold them by the mouth, and swim in a school of any of these species with no danger whatsoever.
Learn more: Crappie Fishing Tips
America’s most popular game fish, largemouth bass have enormous, telescoping mandibles that are perfect for trapping prey items like crawfish, minnows, shad, and other small fish.
And again, if you look carefully, you’ll see that the laregmouth’s “lips” are covered in tiny, tiny teeth that feel like coarse sandpaper.
If you’re having an outstanding morning’s fishing, and you’re catching bass after bass, you may develop what’s commonly known among anglers as “bass thumb.” All that contact with the largemouth’s minute teeth will wear your skin just like a pass with 60 grit sandpaper, but that’s the extent of the “bite.”
Most anglers are proud of having a bad case of “bass thumb!”
You can safely handle and swim with largemouth bass with absolutely no danger to you.
Learn more: Bass Fishing Tips
If you take a look inside a catfish’s mouth, you’ll see lots of tiny teeth just fractions of an inch long. Designed to hold prey like slippery fish in place, they can rough up your skin a bit, giving you a mild abrasion, but that’s it.
There’s even a method of fishing for catfish in which you intentionally place your hand into their mouths, let them grab you ,and pull them free from their housing place.
Noodling is a popular technique in the deep south.
Catfish don’t bite, and it’s safe to swim with them.
But they are venomous, packing quite a punch. As the University of Michigan reports, “Catfish venom glands are found alongside sharp, bony spines on the edges of the dorsal and pectoral fins, and these spines can be locked into place when the catfish is threatened. When a spine jabs a potential predator, the membrane surrounding the venom gland cells is torn, releasing venom into the wound.”
So it’s important to learn to handle catfish correctly, but there’s no danger of a bite.
Learn more: Catfish Tips
That’s a mouth you don’t want any part of!
Walleye are native to the northern US and Canada, and among the region’s most popular game fish. Delicious and fun to catch, trolling for walleye on the Great Lakes is a rite of passage for thousands of anglers every year.
Walleye eat fish, and they have plenty of teeth to catch, grip, and tear flesh.
You definitely don’t want to stick your fingers into a walleye’s mouth, but there’s no danger handling them properly or swimming in waters where they’re hunting.
They’re simply not the least bit interested in you!
Learn more: Walleye Fishing Tips
Pike and Muskie
Northern pike, and the closely related muskie, are aggressive ambush predators with mouths full of long, rearward-facing teeth.
They most certainly will bite you if you put your hand in their mouth, but attacks on humans are so rare as to be almost non-existent and certainly cases of mistaken identification.
One child was probably bitten by one of these two species as she dangled her feet in the water, and you can see that the wound is no joke.
It’s not clear which species is responsible for this bite, but pike and muskie are the most likely culprits.
But again, this is so rare that it’s almost unheard of, and it’s completely safe to swim where muskie and pike are found.
Saltwater Game Species
Bluefish have plenty of teeth.
Bluefish are aggressive predators that are fun to catch, as they fight hard and never say die.
They’re armed with a sharp set of small teeth, and you definitely don’t want to put your finger in their mouths to remove a hook.
Instead, use a pair of long-nose pliers and save yourself some stitches!
Despite these teeth and their aggressive predation, there is absolutely no danger to swimming in and around bluefish.
Speckled Trout and Flounder
Speckled trout are armed with two “fangs” and plenty of small, sharp teeth.
Most sought-after saltwater species have teeth, and it’s not a good idea to put your hand in their mouths.
Flounder have sharp teeth - keep your fingers clear!
Even common catches like speckled trout and flounder have teeth, but as long as you don’t stick a finger in their mouth, nothing’s going to happen.
I’ve never heard of anyone being bitten by these fish, and they're safe to handle as long as you don’t slip a finger in where the teeth can get you.
They’re no danger to swim with as they are completely non-aggressive toward humans.
Striped Bass, Cobia, Redfish, and Grouper
It’s safe to “lip” striped bass, just like you would a largemouth.
Much like the largemouth bass or catfish, striped bass, cobia, and grouper sport tiny areas of coarse teeth that are designed to help them grip prey items.
Cobia have mouths a lot like a catfish.
It’s completely safe to put your hand or fingers in the mouth of a striped bass, cobia, grouper, or redfish, and they are no danger whatsoever to people.
Redfish have rough structures, but no true teeth.
These are all species that are simply non-aggressive toward people, and it’s great to swim near these beautiful fish while snorkeling or diving.
Grouper get big and have big mouths, but no teeth - just sand-paper like structures to improve their grip on prey.
King Mackerel and Wahoo
A king Mackerel’s mouth is nothing to mess with!
If you’re looking for teeth, check out the mouth of a King Mackerel!
Just don’t put your hands near its mouth, and everything should be fine. Yes, if you put your hand in one’s mouth to remove a hook - you should always use pliers or a long tool for this - you may be bitten.
I’m sure people run afoul of the King Mackerel’s teeth when they're not being careful, but there’s no danger if you handle them safely.
Wahoo are similarly, though not as impressively, armed by nature. But the same general guidelines apply: just don’t put your hand near their mouths and you won’t have any trouble.
Wahoo are armed with an impressive set of sharp teeth.
Barracuda are torpedoes with teeth, and their aggressive behavior inclines them to bite.
When mishandled, you can expect to be on the receiving end of those sharp teeth, and they have been known to mistake flashy objects like jewelry for fish scales and attack divers.
The aftermath of a barracuda bite.
But this is VERY rare, and almost always a case of mistaken identification by the fish.
It’s generally safe to swim with barracuda as long as they’re not actively feeding:
Tuna have small teeth lining their upper mandible, helping them grab and hold the fish they prey on.
And while not particularly fearsome in comparison to the King Mackerel or barracuda, it’s best to avoid putting a hand or finger in one’s mouth!
If you’re lucky enough to dive or snorkel bear tuna, don’t worry - they’re completely non-aggressive and beautiful to watch.
Tuna have a rw of small, sharp teeth along their upper mandible.
This mako sports impressive teeth.
It goes without saying that the species of shark that are popular with anglers have teeth and are happy to use them in you do something stupid.
Keeping your hands, arms, feet, and legs well away from their mouths is a priority, and they will bite if you give them the chance.
Surprisingly, swimming with sharks is a lot safer than you’d think, and the overwhelming majority of the time, sharks are simply curious about what you are and not the least bit interested in making you dinner.
That’s hard to believe, but professional divers will reassure you. “Although Sharks are carnivorous, they do not preferentially prey on scuba divers, or even humans. Sharks do attack humans, but such attacks are extremely rare! A person’s chance of being attacked by a shark in the US is 1 / 11.5million and the chances of being killed is less that 1 / 264.1 million.”
Most fish can technically bite, but not all of them have teeth that can cause an injury. And even among the species that do, very few are inclined to bite people, unless you give them a real reason to do so like a finger in the mouth.
We hope you’ve learned something today, and as always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have.
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