Whether you’ve landed a few freshwater or saltwater species, you may know that some are more dangerous to handle than others. Jagged teeth, sharp and even toxic spines, or just a mean attitude, are some challenges anglers face. More so, not taking the right precautions can land one in the hospital or with a life-altering injury. Here is a list of the most common freshwater and saltwater species to be extra careful with when handling.

1. Catfish

A happy fisherman presenting his fishing trophy caught in a Polish lake - catfish

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Catfish may come as a surprise for some. A hearty protein and all-around docile creature, these barbels whisker fish contain venom glands and sharp spines. According to National Geographic, there are over 1,200 species of venomous catfish, and some are capable of stings that can kill a human. When it comes to North American species, catfish venom is no worse than a bee sting. Even more, some varieties such as flathead catfish were concluded as being non-venomous.

Of the species that have venom glands, this feature is used as a defense mechanism. When the catfish is feeling threatened, it will pop out a spine on its side. Being triggered or damaged, this spine will activate venom glands that will seep out of the flash. That being said, you are more likely to be poked by one of these spines than activate the venomous glands, just use caution when handling, such as a glove.

2. Sharks

Believe it or not, some anglers are crazy enough to catch a shark. While as long as you are capturing a species that is allowed, it should come as a no-brainer to keep them in the water. Yes, should under no circumstance should a shark brought on board a vessel. View them from a safe distance, such as the side of a boat. But above all,  keep your limbs away, as sharks like to snap and thrash. So, when it comes to handling sharks, the answer is; don’t.

3. Alligator Gar

Free photos of Alligator

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With a name like “alligator gar,” you would think to use precautions when handling. However, some anglers have found out the hard way that this variety of gar has sharp and jagged teeth that can easily shred flesh. With an elongated mouth, like the animal of the same name, and capable of growing to 200 lbs, this is one fish you want to be prepared to land. But it’s not just a long jaw full of teeth to worry about, it’s also the bony scales that coat this peculiar-looking creature. 

If you do accidentally land an alligator gar, don’t fret, lasso the mouth of the fish to prevent any misfortunes. Use wire-resistant gloves and remove the hooks. If you must bring it on board a boat, do not do so without a lasso, and keep it belly down. As a word of caution, anglers should also watch out for being whipped by the tail.

4. Muskie and Pike

Anyone who loves to target bass can tell you a story about a time a mean pike was hooked. Pike and muskie are targeted among anglers for the thrill of an adrenaline-pumping fight in freshwater. But after a lengthy battle of trying to tire out one of these aggressive fighters, up close anglers could be shocked at the appearance of small but sharp teeth. Using vigilance, a pike, or muskie can be handled with a puncture-resistant glove. Additionally, anglers should watch out for the spines on these fish. Although non-venomous, they are designed to be a defensive mechanism to inflict damage if the fish attempts to wriggle free.

5. Barracuda

Are barracuda dangerous or just misunderstood? It is true that if you consume this fish, there is a risk of contracting ciguatera. But, this is an exposure that anyone risks who eat any reef fish. The reality is, that the barracuda is no more dangerous than pike or muskie. Yes, it has much more prominent teeth, and also an aggressive demeanor like its freshwater counterparts. Yet, like most saltwater species, this elongated fish likes to thrash and twist until it’s tired. Use a heavy-duty set of pliers to remove any hooks. Furthermore, when handling this creature, grasp the gills under the head, and cup the body with the other hand.

6. Lionfish

Free photos of Lionfish

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Lionfish come as the most venomous species on this list and should be treated with extra precautions. These docile creatures are known for the 18 brown frilled spines on their back and sides, which are full of an illness-inducing toxicant. Once an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific Ocean region, these beautiful but deadly fish can be found from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico.

As for handling lionfish, it must be done with puncture-proof gloves. It is important to note that failing to take proper precautions may result in an accidental poke from one of the spines and exposure to the venom via your bloodstream. Although death is a rarity, anglers can expect extreme pain, nausea, convulsions, and dizziness as possible side effects. So, it’s best to avoid lionfish as much as possible.

7. Billfish

Swordfish, sailfish, and marlin are members of the billfish family, and they all have one thing in common; an elongated and sharp bill similar to a sword. When many anglers seek these species, there is likely little thought into the danger that these beloved sports fish pose. For many, it’s a dream come true to target one. But, the truth is, these potentially 1,000 lbs or more fish can be quite deadly up close, as it thrashes their large body about. 

Believe it or not, there have been incidences where a billfish has impaled anglers, breaking off its extended bill in the process. Others have received broken bones and concussions from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you’re fortunate enough to catch one of these deep-sea beauties, admire them from a distance and leave the handing to an experienced crew with the proper equipment to move them.

The Last Word

Alas, hazards that anglers could face don’t end with dangerous fish. Weather, location, slips, and other wildlife can all pose a threat. The best way to avoid any blunders is to be informed and take extra precautions, even when it may seem unnecessary. Nothing puts a damper on a fishing trip quite like an accident that could’ve been easily avoided. So, the next time your line is tugging, be careful if you land one of these dangerous to handle species.