If you’re looking to find out more about Northern Pike Fish, you’re in the right place. Here, we run through everything you need to know about the fish itself, where to go looking for it, plus some tips and tricks for using the right lures.
What is a Northern Pike Fish?
Northern pike – Latin name, Esox lucius – is a type of carnivorous pike that lives in freshwater throughout the northern hemisphere. It is part of the Esox genus which contains other pikes, including the American pickerel, the muskellunge, the amus pike and the chain pickerel. The Northern Pike is identified by its blotchy, turquoise scale pattern and brown body.
The Northern Pike’s range extends from Alaska in the west through watercourses in the northern United States and southern Canada, including the Great Lakes, and on to New England. In Eurasia, it lives in temperate regions of Europe, throughout the Caucuses, and to the sub-Siberian Asian steppe. Pikes do not live in tropical or arctic climates.
Pike are relatively large for catchable fish, measuring between sixteen and twenty two inches with some species as long as 59 inches. The weight of caught pikes can go as high as 55 lbs, though they tend to grow larger in northern Asia than North America.
The Northern Pike gets its name from its resemblance to a pole weapon from the middle ages. It also goes by many other common names, including the jack, slough shark, gator, jackfish and slimer.
Where to Fish for Northern Pike
The range of the Northern Pike is enormous, covering most parts of Canada and the United States, going as far south as Georgia in the east. You can fish for it in freshwater bodies in New England, Vermont, the Great Lake border region and even upstate New York. Most regions of southern Canada have pike fishing opportunities, as well as northern midwestern states, such as Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
You’re most likely to find Northern Pike in shallow weedy areas, such as flat and bays. If you chance upon wild rice or reed beds in the summer, these can also be excellent locations for pike fishing as well.
In some cases, you may find pike in cold, clear, rocky waters. Pike are ambush predators – a type of carnivorous fish – and so they will often remain still in thick undergrowth for many hours, waiting for prey to arrive. When it does, they suddenly shoot forward and strike. Pike are cannibalistic in nature, so young pike will often hide from other older, larger pike, in reed beds and thick undergrowth. Almost anywhere there is thick vegetation and freshwater, you are likely to find pike. Anglers regularly check inland lakes as well as the mouths of rivers where rich sediment banks and vegetation grow up.
Northern Pike also appear to prefer stiller water to rough water. Researchers believe that this is because pike need areas of vegetation to ambush their prey, and vegetation tends to sprout up in areas of low turbidity.
Northern Pike Fun Facts
The Northern Pike is one of the most celebrated fish in the world. Here are some facts that make it an angling favorite:
- The longest recorded Northern Pike measured 59 inches long and weighed a whopping 63 pounds
- You can find Northern Pike across Canada, the northern and eastern United States, much of Europe except Spain, Norway and Sweden, and the Central Asian steppe
- Northern Pike can live as long as 25 years. Most individuals live between 10 and 15 years
- Northern Pike may cannibalize their young and their siblings
- The Muskellunge and Northern Pike sometimes interbreed, creating a hybrid. The males are usually infertile, but the females can carry hybrid offspring
- The Northern Pike can swim up to 10 mph
- Northern Pikes spawn in April
- The fish play an important role as predators in freshwater environments
- Northern Pike are voracious eaters, causing them to snap at bait readily
- Fully grown Northern Pike have very few natural predators besides sea lampreys and humans. Perch minnows and waterfowl may prey on newly spawned fish.
- The official IGFA record for the largest Northern Pike catch is a 55 lb pike caught in Graggern Lake in Germany by Lothar Louis in 1986
Top Northern Pike Fishing Lures & Tips
Northern Pike are voracious eaters, so you generally have quite a bit of choice when it comes to lures. Most pike will bite the bait if given half a chance.
Use Chartreuse, White And Yellow Lures
Pike are carnivorous fish so, ideally, you want baits that look like their prey – usually struggling fish. Chartreuse, white and yellow work best here.
Use An In-Line Spinner
Between March and May, weed growth is not so much of a factor. For this reason, many pike anglers use in-liner spinners that let them cover water. The weight of spinners allows a longer cast, and the blades give you more flash. Just be sure to keep the spinner off the bottom during retrieval.
Attach A Spoon
You also want your setup to include a spoon. This will mimic the flash of a fleeing fish, increasing the likelihood that a pike will take the bait. If you can’t get your spoon to flutter how you would like, adopt a jigging motion as you draw in the bait.
If you find a drop-off, spoons can be even more effective. This way, you can control the depth and accurately mimic the motion of real prey.
Use Baits That Put Off Vibrations Or Sounds
The best choices of bait for pike include loud topwaters, such as buzzbaits, walking baits, inline spinners, lipless cranks and spinnerbaits. Pike tend to be highly visual and vibration-sensing feeders so, again, these types of baits help to mimic the action of regular fish.
Use Medium Heavy To Heavy Power Rods
Pike have a tendency to grow extremely large – between 30 and 50 pounds in some cases. Medium to heavy power rods are, therefore, essential. Your rot, reel and line all need to be able to endure the increased weight.
Go Big With Your Tackle Selection
Northern Pike are opportunistic feeders and won’t shy away from bigger prey. Feel free to upsize your tackle and go for a larger selection. Bigger baits are good for drawing pike away from undergrowth and encouraging them to come out into open water. They’re also better for visibility purposes. Pike are more likely to see them and snap.
Use A Fluorocarbon Leader
Pike have exceptionally sharp teeth – one of the reasons you need to be so careful when you handle them. But they can also easily slice through braids. To avoid losing all your best bait, always attach a leader so that you can collect it later, should your line fail.
Don’t Lip Pike
Because pikes are so dangerous, you need to go prepared. Unhooking them can be a delicate operation and they are well known for snapping at any opportunity. Most serious anglers take long needle nose pliers and jaw spreaders with them. Don’t attempt to unhook by hand.
Find Grass And Reeds
Pike are ambush predators, so they tend to spend the majority of their time next to long grass and shallower reedy areas. When pike fishing, concentrate your efforts on wild rice beds, weed lines and reed patches to maximize the likelihood of a catch. If these habitats are not available, focus on bays and flats.
Can you eat Northern Pike?
People do not generally consume Northern Pike (and, in many places, they consider it an inedible fish). However, nutritionally speaking, you can cook and eat it. The notion that you cannot probably stems from the fact that the fish are difficult to clean and fillet.
In terms of how it tastes, the Northern Pike is an underrated fish when done properly. It has a rich and distinct flavor – just like many other predatory species. The meat is white and, if the fish is large, you get a lot of it. Larger specimens are easily enough to feed a family. The only trouble is picking out the bones – especially the Y-bones. Also, be sure to remove all of the internal organs and discard them before you begin filleting.
Because people rarely consume Northern Pike (and it is not available from most fishmongers), there are no standard recipes that people follow. However, you can apply recipes that work well with other types of fish to Northern Pike.
Popular recipes include:
- Roasted pike with lemon and butter sauce with clove and parsley
- Pan-fried chili pike with onions, tomatoes and kidney beans
- Breaded Northern Pike fingers with dipping sauces (ketchup and BBQ)
- Deep-fried Northern Pike with garlic butter
- Pike fillets with corn salsa
- Pike tacos with sour cream, guacamole, tomato salsa and breaded pike chunks
- Battered pike with chunky British fries
- Braised pike fillets with onion, tomatoes, pepper, celery and chicken broth