Northern Pike, Esox lucius
Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Single dorsal fin, light colored spots on darker body, upper half of gill cover and entire cheek has scales, and five to six submandibular pores (underside of lower jaw).
The Northern Pike is a member of the Pike family (Esocidae), with its cousins the Muskellunge and Grass Pickerel. As predators, Northern Pike can have significant impact on their prey species. As with Muskies, pike lurk in the cover of vegetation in the lake's clear, shallow, warm waters near shore, although they retreat somewhat deeper in midsummer. Pike consume large numbers of smaller fish - about 90 percent of their diet - but seem willing to supplement their diet with any living creature their huge jaws can surround, including frogs, crayfish, waterfowl, rodents and other small mammals. Their preferred forage fish are Yellow Perch, sunfishes, minnows and suckers.
Pike in the Great Lakes region spawn in the shallows in April or May, right after the ice leaves, and before Muskies reproduce. As a result of their eating habits, young pike grow rapidly in both length and weight. Females become sexually mature at age three or four years, and males at two to three years. Beyond sexual maturity, pike continue to gain weight, although more slowly. Northern Pike have an average life span of six to eight years, with some living as long as 15 years of age.
Pike eggs and new hatchlings (which stay inactive, attached to vegetation for their first few days of life) fall prey in large numbers to larger pike, perch, minnows, waterfowl, water mammals and even some insects. Larger pike have two primary enemies - lampreys and humans. Spawning adult Northern Pike, exposing themselves recklessly in the shallows, are vulnerable to bears, dogs and other large carnivores.
Northern Pike flesh excels in flavor, thus making them a doubly rewarding game fish. Since their skin has heavy pigmentation and an unappetizing mucous coating, most people skin them or scale them carefully.
For more information on how and where to catch Northern Pike see our Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them and Better Fishing Waters.
Northern Pike graphic courtesy of Joseph R. Tomelleri and copyrighted.