Northern Pike

Northern Pike
Esox lucius


Key Distinguishing Markings:

  • The northern pike is an elongated fish.
  • A dorsal region that is bluish-green to gray in color distinguishes Northern pike from other members of the pike family (chain pickerel, redfin pickerel, and muskellunge).
  • Their sides having irregular rows of yellow or gold bean-shaped spots.
  • 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 canine teeth.

Size:

  • The Northern pike is capable of growing more than three feet long and weighing greater than twenty pounds.

Distribution:

  • The range of the northern pike is extensive, having a range greater than any other freshwater gamefish.
  • Pike can be found throughout the northern half of North America.
  • In Maryland, northern pike populations can be found in Deep Creek Lake, the Youghiogheny Reservoir, and Loch Raven Reservoir.

Habitat:

  • Pike prefer clear, shallow, vegetated areas of lakes and larger rivers.
  • Pike are rarely found in areas lacking stumps, aquatic vegetation, or other cover.

Food Preference:

  • Northern pike are primarily fish eaters preying on species such as golden shiners, yellow perch, bluegills, and suckers.
  • Young pike feed on zooplankton and aquatic invertebrates, but soon switch to a fish diet.
  • Large pike have been known to feed on ducklings, small waterfowl, and small muskrats.

Spawning:

  • Spawning takes place soon after ice-out when temperatures reach 35 F in shallow waters.
  • The female broadcasts the eggs over aquatic vegetation while two or more males fertilize them.
  • A large female northern pike can produce 250,000 to 500,000 eggs.
  • The adhesive eggs stick to the vegetation and hatch within six to 29 days depending on water temperature.
  • The young pike typically attain a length of six inches by their first fall.
  • Sexual maturity is typically reached in three years.
  • Pike have been documented to live 24 years.

Fishing Tips:

  • The northern pike is a highly prized gamefish.
  • It is a fantastic fish to catch just based on its sheer size, strength, and fighting ability.
  • The meat of the northern pike is white, great in flavor, and has a flaky texture, however it is quite boney.
  • Pike are captured using large spoons or minnow-type lures fished along the edges of weedbeds.
  • Another popular method is using a large live golden shiner or sucker fished beneath a large bobber just after ice-out in shallow coves.
  • The Youghiogheny Reservoir's pike fishery is governed by Pennsylvania regulations.
  • For current recreational size and creel limits, see Maryland's updated regulation page.

Fun Fact:

  • The Maryland State record northern pike captured in Deep Creek Lake during 1999 measured in at 46 inches and weighed in 24 lbs. 12 oz.!

Family: Esocidae (Pikes)

Order: Esociformes (pikes and mudminnows)

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

For more information on northern pike and their management, please contact Al Heft or Matt Sell.

Illustration courtesy of NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research


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