Illustration by Joseph R. Tomeller ©
Esox Lucius - scientific name
(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.
Commonly associated with the weedy shallows of both the Great Lakes and inland waters. In rivers, they are often found around log jams or fallen timber. 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. Pike can be taken on live bait (primarily large minnows) and all manner of artificial lures, either by trolling or casting. Large diving or topwater plugs, spoons -- the red and white Dardevle is a classic -- and spinners all produce. Because of the pike's sharp teeth, many anglers recommend the use of wire leaders.
Pike are popular quarry of ice fishermen. Though they are primarily pursued with tip ups, baited with live minnows or suckers, they can be taken with rod and reel, either jigging or fishing with bait. Pike are a prime target of spear fishermen as well, who often use decoys or suspend suckers below their shanties to lure pike within range in relatively shallow water.
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. 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 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.