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Northern Pike - The ultimate freshwater predator

Updated on September 23, 2012

So you want to catch northern pike - The freshwater shark?

This is the first part of my catching northern pike series of lenses that I am going to publish over the next few weeks. In order to target and catch a particular species of fish, such as the northern pike, we must first know as much as we can about the fish. In order to give you the best possible chance of catching the fish you should know where it is found, what it eats and how it behaves amongst many other things. The more you know about the fish, the more you can apply your knowledge in catching the fish and the higher your success rate will be.

So, before I publish the detailed lenses on the type of equipment needed to catch northern pike, the best baits to use to catch northern pike and the best methods to catch northern pike I think it is best to provide an overview of this magnificent fish, which will give you the knowledge you need to catch large northern pike.

Where can I find northern pike?

The northern pike, whose Latin name is Esox lucius, is commonly referred to as a pike in the British Isles and the USA and a jackfish in Canada. Based on this it is clear to see the pike is a fish that is widespread throughout the world, including the countries listed above as well as Europe and Russia, which are all in the northern hemisphere.

Many anglers the world over can enjoy catching northern pike, however if you live in an area where there are no pike there are plenty of locations you can go on vacation in search of a large pike to catch.

What do northern pike look like?

Northern pike are a long, lean and mean looking fish, but this is hardly surprising given they are a formidable predator and often referred to as freshwater sharks. The pike is easily recognised by its long snout like mouth that is full of razor sharp teeth for ripping and tearing up its prey.

The pike is built for hunting and like all predators it is coloured to fit in to its background and surroundings so not to be seen by its prey. The pike is dark olive green along its back and flanks, and the belly is lighter in colour and can be anything from pale yellow through to pure white. The flanks are covered in short, bar shaped spots that are lighter in colour. The fins of the pike can vary tremendously with some specimens having light coloured fins the same colour as its belly, and other specimens having deep red fins.

Young northern pike often have yellow stripes along a green body however as the pike becomes more mature the green will turn to a dark olive colour and the stripes will divide and break up in to the spots. Regardless of the age, size, markings or colour a pike is easily recognizable and it is impossible to confuse it with any other species of freshwater fish.

How big and heavy can northern pike get?

As far as freshwater fish go, the pike is amongst one of the larger species and it can grow very large. As pike get longer they will get heavier, but the length/weight relationship is not linear and go up in equal increments. In the right conditions a pike can easily grow to a metre and a half in length (around 60 inches) and weigh up to 25kg (around 55lbs). The heaviest specimen known was caught in Germany in 1983 and this particular pike was 1.47m long (58 inches) and weighed in at 28kg (62lbs). Despite the size of this fish it is not recognised as the largest pike by the IGFA and this accolade goes to another German caught pike that was 25kg (55lbs) in weight and was caught by Lothar Louis in Lake Grefeern on the 16th October 1986.

Pike in North America don't seem to grow as big as the pike in Europe, so if you want to catch the monster pike you are going to have to go across the pond and take a European vacation. That said there have been reports of a 21kg (41lbs) pike caught in New York State. Some Americans have reported larger pike, although these fish were actually muskellunge, a larger relative of the northern pike, or not properly recorded so never really existed.

What sort of environment is best for northern pike?

Pike are generally found in slow moving streams that are shallow and full of weed. Pike are also found in the shallower parts of lakes, where it is weedy, although they will venture in to deeper water during the winter months when the temperature falls.

Pike are a fish that like to ambush their pray and will sit and wait before striking out therefore they like some cover, hence liking weedy places. When a pike is waiting for its prey it will sit under the cover totally motionless, a position it can hold for hours on end. When the prey comes by the pike will strike and attack which is done with awesome acceleration.

Pike eat other pike, i.e. are cannibals, and young pike are vulnerable to attack. Because of this, young pike need a lot of cover where they can hide to eat and avoid being eaten.

What are the feeding habits of northern pike?

The feeding habits of fish are of most importance to anglers, so if you want to catch a northern pike this is the section you need to make sure you read.

Very young pike feed on invertebrates, such as daphnia, and will quickly move on to ispods, such as gammarus. When a pike reaches 4cm to 8cm in length their true colours come through and they move on to eating small fry fish.

In order to feed a pike has to hunt. When a pike hunts it remains stationary and motionless by gently moving the pectoral fins. When a pike is ready it strikes out and devours it prey. In order to propel themselves the pike uses is large tail dorsal and anal fins. A pike typically takes a fish sideways and will then turn it round and swallow it headfirst.

Fully grown pike typically eat fish, however if a pike is hungry it will eat anything it comes across such as maggots, worms, frogs, leeches and anything else it can find. Pike have even been known to take water voles and ducklings. There are times when a pike takes on too much and will try to swallow fish the same size as itself. There have been many pike found dead from choking on fish that were simply too large to swallow.

The pike is a solitary fish that will live and hunt alone, providing it is not the spawning season that is. Pike are territorial fish and will defend their space if another pike enters it. The territorial nature of pike means that once you have caught one pike you are not going to catch another one, so you need to move to another part of the river or lake. The territorial nature of pike also means that if you have fishes a specific area for a few minutes and have not had a bite, the chances are there are no pike there so you need to move to another part of the river or lake.

In the summer months pike are more active and small pike can regularly be seen chasing the newly hatched fry. During the summer months, even the larger pike are more active and will actually move around between ambush points looking for fish to feed on. During the summer months when the pike are active the best way of catching them is to use lures, spinners and plugs.

In the winter months the pike becomes slower and more lethargic. During colder spells the pike will conserve energy and become more of a scavenger than an active hunter, although the pike will still actively hunt if that is what is required to survive. During the winter months the best way to catch the pike is to use live baits or dead baits that are pinned to a single spot.

Pike eating a trout

If you want to see how a pike devours its prey take a look at this video footage, courtesy of Youtube. Pike turn their prey so they can swallow it head first, and this can clearly be seen in this excellent clip.

When do northern pike reproduce?

Northern pike spawn in the spring when the temperatures rise above 9 degrees centigrade. In order to reproduce the mail will put its tail under the female's body and release his spawn that is mixed with the eggs as a result of the tail movement. When a pike spawns this movement will be repeated several times a minute and will last a few hours a day. Every movement results in up to 60 eggs being laid and this process can last from two to four days in a row. After mating the females will disappear and the males hang around for a few extra weeks.

When the eggs hatch there is a 5% chance they will grow to a properly formed pike. Pike will reach sexual maturity within a year and at this stage a female is typically 30cm long and a male, much smaller at 19cm long. Pike will typically live from five to fifteen years old although they can even reach the grand old age of thirty. The actual life expectancy and growth rate of a pike will depend on its own circumstances.

Want to see some northern pike in their natural environment?

If you want to see some underwater footage of northern pike in their natural environment take a look at this video footage, courtesy of Youtube.

When you know about pike, their habits and how they live their life your chances of regularly catching this magnificent fish is increased. Many people say “knowledge is power” and this is true when dealing with pike. For example, by knowing the types of water that typically contain a good head of pike you won’t waste time fishing in unsuitable places. By knowing how pike feed at different times of the year you won’t waste your time by lure fishing in shallow water in the winter months for example. By knowing how pike take the bait you can ensure you place your hooks in the bait where they will get a good hold etc. etc.

As you can see, having a good general knowledge about pike is crucial to catching these fish and it is well worth swotting up on pike and researching this magnificent fish before you go and try to catch one.

Northern pike - Additional reading

This lens provides an overview of the northern pike and what its life is like. If you really want to get an understanding about the northern pike you are going to have to do much more reading, and what better place to start than Amazon, so check these top titles out.

Northern Pike
Northern Pike

A book solely on Northern pike.

Northern Pike
Northern Pike

Another great book all about Northern pike


More reading on northern pike

Amazon is not the only place to buy books about northern pike, oh no, you will also find some great bargains on eBay too.

Okuma spinning rod
Okuma spinning rod

Pike related items

Looking for some pike related products? Check out the items below or use the search tool.

If you have anything else to add please feel free to do so in my guestbook comments below.


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    • rallo-smith profile image


      6 years ago

      I love fishing for pike. They can put up a nice little fight. Great information I look forward to even more.

    • mariaamoroso profile image


      6 years ago from Sweden

      I have cought many of the pikes we have in Sweden and along the Swedish coasts. Even during the winter we drilled a hole in the ice and took them with bait.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      nice detailed article about this particular fish ... *blessed*

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Really good information. I would never have the nerve to try to catch one.


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