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The Most Dangerous Freshwater Fish

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We may think of fish as soft and scaly, but many of them have enough teeth, spines, or muscle to do damage to the careless angler. We’re not just talking about piranhas here. Common catches like catfish, blue gill, and halibut have all been known to cause injuries to fishermen who weren’t knowledgeable on how to handle them. As we explore some of the common freshwater fish that can pack a punch, let’s remember how to safely handle them so no one in our group gets injured from their next catch.


As shown in this medical report of two people who were stung by catfish, one of the most common freshwater fish also has pectoral and dorsal spines on each side. To mitigate this is not difficult, as we simply have to avoid the spiky pectoral fins on either side, and the sharp dorsal fin on its back. A rule of thumb is to grab the catfish with your palm on its belly, and your fingers strategically avoiding the fins of the fish. A fact that cat fans will find interesting is that a lot of dangerous fish are named after cats, including the tiger fish, lionfish, and tiger shark, among others. Ultimately, catfish themselves pose minimal threat to anglers who know where their sharp spines are.  


With a Latin name that translates as “Water Wolf”, the fish known as pike were given that ominous name for good reason. Reaching sizes of six feet and almost 60 pounds, it’s easy to see how a pike flopping around on your boat could cause all kinds of damage. With tendencies to hunt in packs, grow pads of sharp teeth, and snap at anything within range, pike are among the most aggressive freshwater beasts that you might encounter. While many anglers prefer the use of gloves and nets, the Gill-Plate Grab is a method that lets you safely handle the tenacious pike.


Gar are so prehistoric looking, they’ve earned the nickname, “Living Fossils”. Nonetheless, these carnivorous fish are very much alive, found in freshwater habitats throughout North America. With long, bony snouts and rows of teeth, gar are more often killed to get rid of a nuisance rather than for eating. Their tendency to float near the service makes gar an excellent target for bow fishing. Due to excessive boniness, gar are rarely used for meat, and don’t plan on gar caviar either because their eggs are toxic. If you hook a gar, expect a fight and avoid its long narrow rows of sharp teeth.

Be Smart and Be Prepared

If someone fished in a lake for the first time and caught a catfish, they may not know to grab it by its underside and to avoid all three of its fins due to their spines. This shows that in addition to proper attire and gear, knowing the challenges and threats we’re likely to face on a fishing trip can prevent unnecessary injury. Fish can have a lot of fight in them, so wearing long sleeves, gloves, and face protection will further ensure that you’ll get through your trip unscathed.

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