illustration: northern pike

Creature Feature - Northern Pike (Esox lucius)

A favourite with many anglers as a game fish, as well as an important species within the natural environment of Ontario and many other northern nations, the Northern Pike is one of the most distinctively Canadian species, and crucial to preserving the delicate balance of biodiversity.

Northern Pike can grow to a length between 45 to 100 cm (18 to 39 inches), with the most distinctive characteristic of the pike being its elongated body and flattened head. The top and sides of the body are covered with small elongated, pale dots. The sides are brownish to brownish green. The fins have darker, and usually reddish tinged spots. The pike’s coloration varies, darker or lighter, depending upon its habitat. The pike’s underbelly is usually a variation of pale yellow or cream. Its mouth is large and full of long, needle sharp, backward pointing teeth. The northern pike's coloration helps it to hide in its aquatic environment and allows it to surprise its prey.

Pike can be found in North America, Europe and northern Asia. Some of the larger northern pike that habituate in the colder waters of the northern latitudes can live to 25 years of age. Females grow faster and live longer compared to male pike.

Northern pikes are avid predators and feeders. Some naturalists have called the northern pike the ultimate predator. Its body is designed for speed in attacks and dextrous movement in their weedy environment.

The northern pike's large jaw and sharp teeth are perfectly designed to grasp its prey. Larger individuals have been known to take small animals such as ducklings, small muskrats, frogs, mice and insects off the water. Younger pike are also voracious predators, feeding on smaller fish, fish eggs, tadpoles, and any other aquatic animals, which have the unfortunate luck to become available and accessible prey. However, the primary dietary staple for all pike consists of other fish - including other pike.

Northern pike spawn in early spring, usually before the winter ice completely melts from the lakes. Females lay their eggs randomly in shallow waters, usually on flooded plant material, and may be found in medium sized lakes and in the quiet portion of rivers. A large female northern pike may lay as many as a quarter million eggs. The pike do not protect their eggs or lay them in nests. The large number of eggs will ensure that some baby pike will survive to grow into adults. The duration of the spawning period will depend on the temperature of the water. A normal spawning season is six days if the water is around 10 degrees Celsius. If the water is cooler than normal, the period could last as long as 14 days.

As the weather gets warmer, the pike will start to move to deeper water to feed, and by July and August, the pike will reside near rocky ledges and shoals. Once the autumn months arrive and the weather cools off, the pike will move back towards the shallow water and dwell close to logs and stumps along the shore.