Northern Pike

Northern Pike

Characteristics - usually bluish-green to gray on back with irregular rows of light yellow or gold spots on sides (color extremely variable); cheek fully scaled, but lower 1/2 of opercle scaleless; fish weighing 10+ pounds are fairly common in larger lakes and rivers.

Distribution - slow moving, heavily vegetated areas of larger lakes and rivers as the summer progresses. These fish will move deeper as the season progresses as they are sensitive to water temperature. Smaller fish can tolerate higher water temperatures and hence will be caught in shallow water throughout the year.

Foods - mostly fish as adults.

Expert's Tip - big lures with lots of flash entice feeding Pike.

Other names -- common pike, northern, jack fish, snake, slough shark, hammer handle

The northern pike prefers vegetated habitat and access to deeper water as it grows older. This is one of Manitoba's most sought after game fish. The problem, however, is that once removed the genes which produced such a large fish are removed as well. Southern Manitoba has plenty of smaller fish (but not many larger fish) and some have suggested that this is as a result of big fish being taken out of the gene pool.

The northern pike is an elongated fish with a long head, which is depressed forward into a pair of large duck-bill shaped jaws imbedded with numerous canine teeth. Body color is extremely variable, depending upon the waters from which it is taken. Usually it is bluish-green to gray on the back, and the markings on the sides are in the form of irregular rows of light yellow or gold spots. These little markings distinguish it from the grass pickerel and muskellunge. The dorsal fin is located far back on the body and has l6 to l9 soft rays. The cheeks are fully scaled, but the lower half of the opercle is scaleless. There are from l4 to l6 branchiostegal rays contained in the membrane just below the gill cover. The number of sensory pores located along the undersides of the lower jaws is never more than l0. There are about ll9 to l28 scales in the lateral line. This fish species attains a length of 3 to 5 feet and weights of over 40 pounds in Manitoba. Individuals weighing l0 pounds or more are fairly common in the larger lakes and rivers. A large fish over 60lbs was recently caught by a commercial fishermen. Many fish of this size are suspected to prowl the waters of Manitoba!

The northern pike is a voracious feeder, and one of the most predatory fishes known in our waters. The species is an opportunistic carnivore and feeds primarily on living organisms. The food of the young consists largely of insects and their larvae, but as the fish matures, it feeds primarily on fish. Fishes, such as perch, drum, small suckers, walleye, just about anything even smaller northern pike, comprise a large part of their diet. Large pike have been known to eat small muskrats, ducklings and shore birds.

Reproduction of the northern pike begins immediately after the ice melts from the lakes and streams. In Manitoba, ice out is usually by mid-April and spawning begins when the water temperature approaches 35 degrees F. In fact, the pre-spawning movements into the shallow waters are underway before the ice is out. A large female, usually accompanied by several much smaller males, finds her way into shallow marshy areas of streams or flooded grassy margins of lakes. Pike are random spawners, and the adhesive eggs are carelessly deposited over the bottom or on submerged vegetation. Once spawning is completed, the adults return to the lakes and rivers. The eggs are left unattended and hatch in about l2 to l4 days. An average of 63,000 eggs are produced by a female northern pike measuring 25 to 28 inches in length. Individuals weighing 25 to 30 pounds have been known to produce 250,000 to 500,000 eggs. Northern pike usually reach sexual maturity in the third year of life.

The young remain in shallow nursery areas feeding on zooplankton before converting to a fish diet. By fall they reach a length of 6 inches or more, and at the end of their third year measure l7 to 23 inches. Large specimens have been taken, but fish exceeding 35 pounds are rare in Manitoba waters.

Although the pike is generally distributed over much of the Province and is held in high esteem by most fishermen for its fighting ability and excitement generated during the catch, sport harvest remains moderate in comparison with Manitoba's most sought after sport species the walleye. One thing is for sure if your stranded or lost and need something to eat, Mr. Pike is always willing to bite. The flesh of the pike in spring and fall in the south is excellent and in the north it is excellent throughout the fishing season. I've often prepared walleye and pike together and my guests could not tell the difference between the two!