The northern pike is a popular gamefish in the Midwest, Alaska and Canada due to its size. Pike fishing has great potential for trophy catches because the pike can grow to over 20 lbs. The pike also presents a good challenge to anglers with its fighting ability. This challenge is balanced by the fact that the pike is not a picky eater, biting readily on many different baits and lures.
The northern pike has an elongated body and head. Its color ranges from light green in clear streams to dark green in darker waters. Its belly and the underside of its head are white or yellowish. Yellow or gold spots mark its sides in irregular rows. Its broad, flat snout gives it a duck-billed appearance, and its mouth is filled with sharp teeth. These teeth are continuously replaced throughout the fish's life. The pike can grow more than 3 feet long and weigh more than 20 lbs.
Northern pike spawn soon after the ice melts in spring, when the water temperature in the shallows reaches 35 degrees Fahrenheit. During spawning, the female moves to slow-moving waters in lakes or streams and spreads her eggs over the aquatic vegetation. One female pike can produce 250,000 to 500,000 eggs; two or more males will fertilize them. The eggs stick to the underwater vegetation and hatch in six to 29 days, depending on water temperature. The hatchlings usually reach a length of 6 inches by their first autumn, and reach sexual maturity in three years.
Northern pike eat mostly fish, and will hunt almost any fish smaller than they are. Small pike eat tiny crustaceans and insects, switching to a fish diet when they reach about 2 inches in length. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports that large pike sometimes catch and eat mice, shrews, ducklings and other small creatures within their reach.
Habitat and Distribution
The pike has a huge range, living in most of the northern half of North America. This range is larger than that of any other freshwater gamefish. Northern pike thrive in clear, shallow waters of lakes and large rivers with plenty of vegetation. They prefer areas with cover such as stumps or fallen timber and rarely venture into waters without any cover.
Because the northern pike is a strong fighter, and because its meat has good flavor and a flaky texture, the pike is a favorite among anglers. Large spoons or lures resembling minnows work well, especially when you fish them along the edges of weed beds. Live minnows, such as golden shiners, fished under a large bobber in shallow waters just after the ice melts also attract northerns. Always use a wire leader when fishing for northern pike, because the pike's mouthful of sharp teeth will easily bite through regular monofilament line.