Published Nov 17. 2005 - 18 years ago
Updated or edited Dec 14. 2016

Pike Landing

Large pike can be quite intimidating, almost scary to land. They have teeth everywhere and the danger of being badly cut is very present. But there is a grip, which is safe. By properly lifting the fish in its jaw, both you and the pike stay unharmed.

Perfect grip

When a big pike or muskie strikes and sticks to your hook, you know you are in for a great experience. These fish are fierce and strong, attack like rockets and almost always put up a good fight.

But once you see that broad neck and those smacking jaws in the surface you may start to wonder: "Why did I do this?"

And sure it can be quite a challenge to get your hands close to the toothy mouth of these often very scary predators. Pike's mouths are made to hold onto anything that gets in there, and the pike manages to do that by having a lot of teeth. A lot!

A mouth from hell

As you can see on the pictures next to this chapter, a pike indeed does have a lot of teeth. This larger-than-life model of a pike head is located on a Danish museum for fresh water biology, and it very clearly illustrates how the pike has managed to grow teeth almost everywhere.

The jaws have teeth of course. Large ones on the side, smaller ones on the front "lips". The side ones are the largest and sharpest of the lot, and the ones, which can cut even a steel or brass wire leader. A monofilament leader has little chance if trapped over these teeth, which are sharp as razor blades can be quite a challenge to get your hands close to the toothy mouth of these often very scary predators

Pike head

And the tongue has teeth. Most fish have a rough tongue, but on pike they are like cutters on a shredder: numerous, sharp and all pointed in the same direction: backwards.

Same thing in the roof of he mouth, although the teeth up there are quite a bit larger than the tongue ones. And to make bad worse Mother Nature has also equipped the pike with teeth on the gill rakes, all pointed in towards the mouth.

A trap

If you combine all these teeth with the size and strength of the pike's mouth and its blazing speed, you have a near perfect fish trap. Once in there, a small fish has nary a chance of escaping. The teeth will easily penetrate any scales or tough skin and will very efficiently hold the fish and transport it towards its destiny: becoming pike food.

Now, if your hand is trapped in there, it's not likely that you become pike food. You will most likely want to take your hand out. But in doing so, you will inevitably get caught on the teeth and since they both cut and point in the opposite direction of the hand movement, blood will run!

As you have probably guessed already, there's no lipping of pike!


The reason why




The alternative

Back to the subject at hand: avoiding this blood bath and making sure that you can land, dehook and release the pike with all fingers intact.

The trick is to get your fingers inside the gill slit from under the pike's mouth and letting them slide up into the triangle between the sides of the lower jaw under the tongue. This area is totally devoid of teeth and there are no teeth on the parts your fingers pass on the way.
If the pike is pointing right you use the right hand and vice versa.
Let your fingertips slip under the gill lid as far towards the front of the fish as possible. It is essential that you only get the fingertips inside. You don't want to get your fingers in contact with teeth or the gills themselves. And use all four fingers, particularly on larger fish.

The grip is very sure. You can easily hold even big pike with one hand and should the fish start moving - which it only rarely does when it hangs like this - you can control it with little effort. Just relax and let the fish wiggle. Without water as a counterforce it has little strength.

No harm done

It seems that the pike can be held like this without suffering any harm at all.
The lower jaw is rock solid, and very firmly attached to the skull. And the jaw and neck muscles of a pike seem to be strong enough to hold the whole body weight.

No gaffs, no grips

I have seen pike landed using large Boca grips, which of course can be an alternative. But honesty: I think the gill-to-jaw-grip is safer and better - and quite a lot less expensive! I have also seen gaffs used, but even though a gaff in theory can enter where your fingers would and hold the fish much like you would with your fingers. But if the gaff has a sharp point, which most gaffs have, there is a very present danger of harming the fish (or yourself) in the process. If you use a gaff for the purpose, you could at least file down the point or mount some ball or a similar object over the tip.

I do not urge you to hold the fish like this for too long, but I'm sure that the short time it takes to lift and unhook a fish before release has no influence at all on the fish. It is under all circumstances better than having the pike flopping around in the bottom of a boat or on a sandy bank with the risk of all kinds of harm - both to the fish and you.

Some pike anglers argue that lifting the pike out of the water in the jaw alone can severely damage and dislocate the jaw. I have personally never seen this happen, but save yourself the possible experience, and always support the fish with both hands when lifting them fully out of the water.

Small fish


Should you want to handle, measure or photograph the fish, just keep your hand in the jaw and lift it by the tail or by gently supporting the belly of the fish. This is also a good grip for a safe release.

Pike are extremely robust fish, and unlike most salmonids they seem to take little notice of not being able to breathe. Again I do not endorse holding the fish out of water for minutes on end, but compared to trout and salmon, pike are able to withstand quite some time out of water and still be able to swim right off as soon as they hit water again.

Difficult on smaller fish

The pike grip only has one disadvantage: it's not that easy to perform on smaller fish. And small pike are in the 1-4 lbs. range or between ½ and 2 kilos.
The reason for this is that even though you only slide your fingertips inside the gill lids, you risk touching gills, gill rakes or teeth.

Since you are dealing with smaller fish, the alternative can be a gentle grip over the neck or simply just supporting the fish under the belly.

Float tube

Back into the water

Poul Volquartzen


To safely unhook a pike you want tools! A large and really long artery clamp style set of pliers are good, but long nosed traditional pliers will do fine too.
I have tried the Ketchum Release style tools on pike, but honestly: I prefer something more sturdy.

Other sources

Many sources refer to this grip as the Leech Lake Lip Lock, which may very well be its name even though the grip is not around the lip, but around the jaw.

  • This dicussion on Michgan Walleye also covers the subject
  • Comments

    Go to the videos on ...

    Go to the videos on the website These guys catch and release hundreds of pike with this method. As you can see no harm is done. The fish are off the hook in no time. Even with barbless treble hooks.

    An excellent article...

    An excellent article, I made my son read it before i took him pike fishing then showed him how before making him do it himself under guidance, we had a great day with 8 fish in total, not one was harmed and we counted our fingers at the end and all ok.

    Thanks again

    Martin, thank you fo...

    Martin, thank you for creating this page. I have read many contradictory things on the web about how to properly handle pike, but your post is the most carefully reasoned, and by far the best illustrated. I've tried several times, and still have never caught a pike, but I want to be ready for the day finally do. Your excellent photographs and drawing make me much more prepared than I was before. I will also be carrying a net, as a backup. Again, thank you for taking the time and effort to help others.

    i coulght a 35 lbs ...

    i coulght a 35 lbs pike last week and i closed its eyes and i put my hand in its mouht no harm done

    Looks a little fooli...

    Looks a little foolish to be that interested of the pike's survival if you read this NYT article!

    Impossible to get rid of pike from a lake whatever methods used.

    "more than 500 fish and game personnel began a last-ditch, $16 million effort to rid the lake of pike, the most expensive ever undertaken against an 'invasive species' in California"

    16 millions dollar to get rid of pike in one lake and you are talking about gill-grips hurting or not???

    I've been using the-...

    I've been using the-what we call- gill grip- for years. Only I support the fish under its belly as soon as I have gill-gripped it. That is an important pro, if the fish just hangs at its jaw damage is easily done. Personally I feel this still is the best way to get a pike out safe and sound. Piece of cloth over the eyes helps... Don't forget these beast come from a certain and beautifull silent invironment and now see the compelte crazy world we are living in.
    I would certainly do the same,, trash around like a nutter. 'Wanna go back, wanna go back!!.

    Ad Swier.

    When a large pike is...

    When a large pike is lifted by the jaw all the blood rushes to the bottom of the fish and it can basically kill the fish. This goes more for large musky but with a pike the same will happen. This is the reason why, most catches and releases of these big fish's weight are usually stated in inches. Hanging one of them from a weighting hook could kill it.

    Dear Martin, may...

    Dear Martin,

    maybe a good method of calming the pike down (when out water) is just covering its eyes.Believe or not, as soon as the eyes are covered with your hand pike calms down completely (have done it myself couple of times and have seen many people doing so) and then easilly you will put the other hand/fingers in the jaw.

    I like your notes very much, hope to continue with good comments.


    Martin Just a wee...


    Just a wee note of thanks. After trawling through pages and pages of inprecise and vague advice on how to both unhook and hold a pike, I found your page, giving a far more accurate and clearer explanation.

    I have previously only fished for pike a couple of times a year, using spinning tactics or a wobbled dead bait. However, more recently I have enjoyed pike fishing on a local lake and so am steadily building up my store of tackle and reading all i can about it. I have great respect for any fish i catch and as such i try to handle and unhook pike as best i can without harming them. To this end I often either take excess trebles off lures/spinners or at the very least flatten 2 of the treble hook points to make unhooking easier. The only danger i can envisage with this is that as the point is sharper on the hook it will no doubt bury itself deeper into the pikes mouth, as there is nothing restricting its penetration.

    From reading your above advice i now have the confidence to hold/unhool a suitably sized pike under the jaw without fear of injuring the fish.

    Many thanks and kind regards


    Martin Joergensen's picture

    Pär, I certainly...


    I certainly respect your opinion and I think I have stated fairly clearly in the article that lifting fish out of the water in the jaw is not necessarily the best way of doing things. I have yet to see any visible damage to any fish I have seen handled in this way and I would be very pleased if you could mail me some links with references to the studies about the swallow reflex you mention. As a biologist I would be very eager to read them.

    Personally I think a campaign against spinning lures with three large treble hooks or the usage of gaffs would be a better way to spend ones energy, but as I said: I respect your opinion... although I might have wished for a kinder and more constructive tone... ;-)

    Thanks for your valued input anyway.


    Your story above is ...

    Your story above is just bullshit! A big pike or a fat pike will get serious damage if you just lift it in the gill. Studies about this, you can read them here on the Internet if you search! Personaly I've noticed that it takes far longer time for the pike to recover, if you lift it in the gill, completely above the water. But the biggest problem is that the swallowreflex will be destroyed if you do so.

    Best regards


    i love fishing...

    i love fishing but im only ten and i want to start catching pike


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