Also known as
American pike, common pike, great lakes pike, great northern pickerel, great northern pike, jack, jackfish, northern pearleye, pickerel, pike, snake, wolf, gatorBack to Top
What they look like
Esox, the old Latin name for pike, used as early as Pliny; perhaps derived from the Greek isox, or both the Latin and Greek from a common Celtic root (as in the Welsh ehawc, eog, "salmon"). Lucius, from the supposed Latin name for the species, likely derived from the Greek lukos, "wolf", an obvious reference to the predatory habits of this fish. Common name is short for pike-fish, a reference to the long, pointed snout resembling the pike, an iron tipped staff.
Northern pike are extremely variable in color depending upon the waters from which it is taken. They typically have yellow-green, light olive, or cream oval spots on a darker olive almost brown or green background, in a reticulated or chain-like pattern. The belly is cream or white. Northern pike have a tiny gold spot on the tip of most scales which appear as if flecked with gold and brilliant yellow eyes. They have yellowish or reddish-brown fins with the dorsal, anal, and tail having diffuse dark spots. Northern pike have a slimy, long, slender, and serpentine like body with a forked tail. They also have fully scaled cheeks and five sensory pores on each side of the ventral surface of the lower jaw. The mouth is duck-bill shaped and is lined with many sharp, backward-slanting canine teeth and the dorsal fin located far to the back of the body.
Breeding adults are similar to non-breeders. Small juveniles have faint dark mottling or vertical bars on dark green or olive flanks (may superficially appear to be a solid color) and a sharp border with a white belly. Larger juveniles have alternating thin light and thicker dark transverse vertical bars and with increasing size the light bars break into spots.Back to Top
Where they live
Northern pike prefer clear, shallow, vegetated areas of lakes and larger rivers. They are rarely found in areas lacking stumps, aquatic vegetation, or other cover. Small northern pike remain in shallow weedy water through much of the year. Large northern pike move deeper as summer progresses, seeking oxygenated water of 65 degrees or cooler. Large northern pike become lethargic in warm water, eating little and sometimes losing weight. (In prolonged high temperatures and low oxygen, northern pike may actually starve). Moreover, in midsummer forage reaches peak abundance. For these reasons northern pike fishing falls off in warm weather.
Northern pike have probably been present in Washington waters for only two or three decades. The first confirmed reports of pike came from Long Lake in the early 1970s. Long Lake is a reservoir located on the lower Spokane River, near the city of Spokane. The few individual fish reported are believed to be strays from Idaho populations. There is no indication that this species is expanding in numbers or distribution.Back to Top
What they eat
A voracious predator and built for quick acceleration, pike typical ambush prey from cover. They lie in wait for prey, holding perfectly still for long periods and then exhibit remarkable acceleration as they strike. The fish has a distinctive habit of catching its prey sideways in the mouth, killing or immobilizing it with its needlelike teeth, and then turning the prey lengthwise to swallow it. It eats mainly fish, but on occasion mice, young muskrats and ducklings have also been known to fall prey to pike. Pike will aggressively strike at any fish in the vicinity, even at other pike.
Young pike have been found dead from choking on a pike of a similar size. Though northern pike eat sunfish and bass, they prefer more cylindrical fish. Northern pike also feed on frogs, insects, crayfish and leeches. Northern pike can't afford to expend that amount of energy in pursuit of morsels, so they concentrate their efforts on larger forage. Their preferred food size is approximately one third to one half the size of the pike itself. Young pike feed on zooplankton and aquatic invertebrates, but soon switch to a fish diet.Back to Top
Pike grow to a relatively large size, lengths of 59 inches and weights of 55 pounds are not unheard of. Typically they grow 20 to 36 inches in length. The heaviest specimen known so far was caught in an abandoned stone quarry, in Germany, in 1983. She (the majority of all pikes over 18 pounds are females) was 5 feet long and weighed 67 pounds. The longest pike ever recorded was 60 inches long and weighed 61 pounds. Currently, the IGFA recognizes a 55 pound pike caught by Lothar Louis in Lake of Grefeern, Germany, on 16 Oct, 1986 as the all-tackle world record northern pike. Northern pike in North America seldom reach the size of their European counterparts. One of the largest specimens known was a 46 pound, 2 ounce specimen from New York state. It was caught in Great Sacandaga Lake on September 15, 1940 by Peter Dubuc. Northern pike may live 10-26 years depending upon the area.Back to Top
Northern pike spawn in April and early May. Females become sexually mature at age three or four years, and males at two to three years. Migrations into the spawning areas take place during the night. Spawning occurs in shallow, slow waters of heavily vegetated areas in rivers, marshes, and bays of lakes. Spawning occurs at temperatures between 34 and 40 °F, but 36 to 37 °F seems to be the preferred range. A larger female is usually attended by one or two smaller males. A large female northern pike can produce 250,000 to 500,000 eggs, only a few eggs are laid at a time so an individual fish spawns for several days. The eggs are scattered at random and adhere to flooded vegetation. Fertile eggs will hatch in four or five days (it can take up to 29 days depending on the temperature). There is no parental care.
The young pike grow rapidly during their first summer. The young pike typically attain a length of six inches by their first fall and at the end of their third year measure 17"-23". Northern pike fry feed on plankton and then invertebrates but soon switch to a diet consisting largely of fish.
Northern pike occasionally breed with muskellunge to produce the hybrid commonly known as the tiger muskellunge, depending on the gender of each of the contributing species. In the hybrids, the males are almost invariably sterile although the females are sometimes fertile. Another form of northern pike, the silver pike, is not a subspecies but rather a mutation that occurs in scattered populations. Silver pike, sometimes called silver muskellunge, lack the rows of spots and appear silver, white, or silvery-blue in color.Back to Top
34 lbs. 0.96 oz. caught in Long Lake, Spokane County by angler Bryan McMannis on April 9, 2004