A man holding a redfish thinking Do redfish have teeth

Do redfish have teeth? (Answered & handling tips!)

Redfish, otherwise known as red drum fish, are popular saltwater fish. You can catch them all along the East Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico.

But, do redfish have teeth like other saltwater fish? 

While redfish do have teeth, they aren’t sharp at all! They actually have bony structures called pharyngeal teeth at the back of their mouth. These teeth are perfect for crushing up small invertebrates like crabs and other shellfish.

There are safe practices to keep in mind when handling redfish. The proper method to choose depends on the size of the fish.

Let’s have a look at the type of teeth they have and methods for handling different-sized redfish. 

Do Redfish Have Teeth?

Redfish do have teeth, but they are not easy to see at first glance. 

All redfish whether large or small have flat teeth grouped on crushing plates found deep inside their throat, just past the last gill arch. 

These crushing plates are a specialist adaptation of redfish that are powerful enough to crush their prey, which is predominantly crustaceans and shellfish, like crab, shrimp, oysters, and other shelled creatures that require a lot of force and pressure to access the flesh within. 

The actual teeth look a lot like human molars. They are small, round, bony structures located at the back of the mouth. 

These bony lumps are called pharyngeal teeth. They are perfect for crushing the redfish’s favorite food: shellfish!

Larger redfish can also have another set of teeth nearer the front of their mouths that look more like a typical saltwater predatory fish’s teeth, individual, pointy teeth which are used for gripping prey.

Do Redfish Have Sharp Teeth?

Red fish’s flat pharyngeal teeth can be serrated to tear through the flesh of prey after crushing the shell but aren’t sharp to a point. Larger redfish also have sharp, pointed teeth found under the front lip. Many anglers have lipped a redfish only to find they’re bitten by these sharp, pointy teeth causing injury.

Even though a redfish’s crushing plates might not be sharp and pointed, they can still cause damage to a fishing line. 

The flat crushing plates can cause damage to a braided leader or a thin mono leader, risking the fish breaking off. 

A few aggressive brushes across these crushing plates can cause the line to snap, so it’s advised to have a stronger leader line than your main line when fishing for redfish. 

This is a rare occurrence but has happened to some of the anglers that we conducted research on.

However, it’s best practice to use a strong mono or fluoro leader for redfish because they are found near structure and often run straight for structure as soon as they are hooked up.

Rubbing against this structure can cause break-offs.

Finally, these flat crushing teeth can also easily cause damage to a thumb or finger when handling a large redfish incorrectly. 

A man holding a fish thinking Do red drum have sharp teeth

Can Redfish Bite You If You Lip Them?

Sometimes lipping a fish might seem the easiest way to handle the fish out of the water or the net. But can you lip a redfish? Will it bite you if you lip it? 

It’s advised not to lip larger redfish because they can bite and it may injure the fish. Redfish jaws have immense crushing power which can injure your fingers, and the sharp pointed teeth at the front can cause lacerations and infection. Secondly, lipping a large redfish could break its jaw from its bodyweight. 

The common wisdom that you’ll find shared among saltwater anglers is to never lip any saltwater fish because they are often predatory and will have some form of teeth that can cause you damage.

It’s possible to lip a redfish and avoid being bitten by either set of their teeth but every time you do, you risk injury. 

On smaller redfish, it’s possible to sustain many bites from their flat crushing plates before any serious injury. 

But after a while, their pharyngeal teeth may make your fingers raw from the repeated crushing! 

If you notice discomfort from lipping them, try wearing gloves or using lip grippers. But you should only use this method on smaller fish.

How To Safely Handle Redfish

The way to safely handle redfish depends on their size. Bull redfish can be as large as 80lbs, so the methods used to pull them up safely differ from those of smaller fish. The safest way not only protects you but also protects the fish.

Small Redfish

Small redfish are relatively easy to handle. You can handle them in several ways:

  1. Use a pair of lip grippers
  2. Grab them inside the lip with your hands
  3. Use a dip net
  4. Grab them by the gill plate, but be sure to avoid touching their gills. 

Fish gills are incredibly sensitive and can be damaged easily. be conscious of this whenever you lift a redfish by the gills. If a fish’s gills sustain damage then it’s likely this will kill the fish. 

If you are lifting a small redfish by the gills be sure to only touch the outer gill cover or plate and not the gill itself. 

The safest method for the fish is using a dip net to bring them up from the water. 

But, if you’re looking for a way to get the perfect picture, it should be alright to lip them as long as you support them by the belly too just for added support.

Once they reach a specific size, though, you shouldn’t lip them. Let’s have a look at how to handle Redfish.

Large Redfish

It is not recommended to lip larger “bull” redfish. 

This is because, as they get heavier, they will put too much pressure on their jaw. 

This can cause them to break or dislocate their jaw, ultimately leading to the fish’s death.

Instead, you should hold this fish around the belly and at the base of its tail, lifting it this way. That way, this fish is more likely to survive, reproduce, and be caught by someone else!

Ideally, the fish should be unhooked in water, or out of the water for an as minimal time as possible to get it unhooked. 

If you want to read up more about removing hooks and safe ways to do this, read our article on fish surviving with hooks in their stomachs (Click).

Any time out of the water risks the fish dying, so consider whether you really need a photo with the fish if it’s going to cause it stress.

Do redfish have teeth? Summary. 

There you have it. Do redfish have teeth? Well, as we’ve seen, they can have more than one set of teeth.

So you might want to reconsider whether you lip your redfish if you want to avoid crushed or cut-up thumbs! 

The redfish is an excellent fish with an even more fantastic tooth pattern! But it’s essential to make sure we handle them with care. Whether they’re big or small, we want to preserve their health so we can enjoy them for years to come!