Pike, northern, jack, jackfish, snake, great northern pike, great northern pickerel, American pike, common pike, Great Lakes pike; Danish: gedde; Dutch: snoek; Finnish: hauki; French: brochet; German: hecht; Hungarian: csuka; Italian: luccio; Norwegian: gjedde; Portuguese: ÿlcio; Russian: shtschuka; Spanish: lucio; Swedish: gäddo.
The northern pike has an elongated body and head. The snout is broad and flat, resembling a duck's beak. The jaws, roof of the mouth, tongue, and gill covers are armed with numerous sharp teeth that are constantly changing. The single dorsal fin with soft rays is located far back on the body. Male and female pike are similar in appearance but differ in coloration. Fish from a clear stream or lake are usually light green, while fish from a dark stream or river are much darker. The underside is whitish or yellowish. The markings on the flanks are irregular rows of yellow or gold spots. Pike with silver or blue coloration is rare; it is called silver pike. Northern pike can be distinguished from its relatives by three main characteristics. First of all, the greenish or yellowish flanks of these fish are covered with lighter kidney-shaped horizontal spots or stripes, while all other pike species have their markings (spots, stripes, bands or netting) darker than the background color. Their pattern is most often confused with that of the walleye. The second difference is the pattern of scales on the gill cover and cheek. In northern pike, the cheek is completely covered with scales, but the lower half of the gill cover is unscaled. The larger muskellunge has the lower half of the gill cover and the lower half of the cheek without scales. In the smaller muskellunge, the gill cover and cheek are completely covered with scales. A third distinguishing feature is the number of pores under each side of the lower jaw, usually 5 in northern pike (rarely 3, 4, or 6 on one side), 6 to 9 in muskellunge (rarely 5 or 10 on one side), and 4 in smaller pike (sometimes 3 or 5 on one side only).
Northern pike are densely distributed throughout Alaska, except on shelf islands, and widely distributed throughout Canada and the Arctic islands above Hudson Bay, with few occurrences on the coastal plains (most of British Columbia and the Atlantic coast of Canada east of the St. Lawrence River). In the United States, it occurs south of Maine in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts (except along the coast) and in all the Great Lakes states (though largely absent from lower Michigan and Indiana), and west of the Great Lakes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, and Montana. It has been widely introduced outside this native range, even into the southern and western states.
Although biologists classify the northern pike as a coldwater species, it lives in a variety of places. It can be found mainly in weedy areas of rivers, ponds and lakes, but also in deeper, open areas of ponds without vegetation, or when the temperature becomes too high in warm, shallow waters. Both warm, shallow ponds and cold, deep lakes are home to pike, but larger individuals prefer water in the mid-50°F range. Smaller fish are more likely to be found in warm, shallow water.
Pike are typically 16 to 30 inches long and weigh 2 to 7 pounds. Females live longer and grow larger than males. In some rivers, lakes and reservoirs in Canada and Alaska, pike up to 20 pounds can be found, and in some rivers, lakes and reservoirs in Alaska, fish up to 30 pounds and up to 4 feet long are possible. The North American record holder is a fish weighing 46 pounds, 2 ounces caught in New York City in 1940. The average life span is 7 to 10 years, but in slow-growing populations they can live up to 26 years.
Life history and Behavior
Northern pike spawn in the spring, moving into heavily vegetated areas of lakes and rivers either immediately after the ice melts or before. In many places they spawn in wetlands or marshes where there is little or no water at the end of the season. The scattered eggs that fall to the bottom are sticky. They usually hatch in 12-14 days, but may take longer in colder waters. In waters where muskellunge are also present, the two species may naturally interbreed. This is rare, but it can happen because the muskellunge spawn under the same or similar conditions, although usually after the pike.
Food and feeding habits
Pike are voracious and ruthless predators, even when they are only a few inches long. They are solitary, lurking near weeds or other cover to ambush their prey. Their diet consists almost entirely of fish, but may sometimes include shorebirds, small ducks, muskrats, mice, frogs, and the like. Scarred fish that have escaped the pike's large, toothy mouth can often be found in the water. The pike feeds most actively during the day and is sight-seeing oriented.
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