Northern pike
Esox lucius (Linnaeus, 1758)

member of the Pike Family (Esocidae)

St. Croix River, Chisago County, Minnesota 21 August 1997

photo by Konrad Schmidt














What's In a Name?
Northern pike: pike of the north

Esox (Ee´-socks) the old name for pike in Europe
lucius (lou´-see-us) the supposed Latin name for this species


    Where Do They Live?
Northern pike occur in all drainages of Minnesota, but are most abundant in central and northern Minnesota east of the prairie. They inhabit lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers and are most common in weedy areas with cool to warm, slow-moving water. You will find these fish among a variety of both cold-water and warm-water fishes.


How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?
Northerns grow fast in their first few years of life. It is not unusual for them to be 350-650 mm (14-26 in) long after their first two growing seasons. Ultimately females attain greater weights and longer lengths than males do. Some northerns reach 760-900 mm (30-36 in) and 11.4-13.6 kg (25-30 lbs), but the size most anglers land is more like 0.9-2.3 kg (2-5 lbs). The state angling record taken from Basswood Lake, Lake County, is 20.8 kg (45 lbs 12 oz). There are netting records of ones that weighed over 22.7 kg (50 lbs). Northerns typically live for 6-9 years, but there are records of a few who reached the ripe old age of 25.

"Cool Fact": Some captive northerns have lived for 75 years!

    What Do They Eat?
The northern pike is a lie-in-wait pisicivore (fish-eater). Most often it lies still in the weeds waiting for a fish to swim by. Then it lunges quickly and grabs the startled fish in its huge, toothy jaws. Young pike start out feeding on waterfleas, copepods, and aquatic insect larvae; but once they reach 50 mm long, they switch to fish. Adult pike have been known to add the following to their basic diet of fish: frogs, sandpipers, ducks, moles, shrews, red squirrels, and full-grown muskrats.

What Eats Them?
Numerous other fish that share the same surroundings, for example bluegills and yellow perch, prey upon the larvae and fingerlings. Silver lampreys and sea lampreys in Lake Superior attack large adult pike, but the largest predators for them are humans and bigger northerns.


How Do They Reproduce?
Northerns spawn in April or early May as soon as the ice melts. They move up into small streams during the night hours or select shallow, flooded marshlands or grassy lake margins as their spawning sites. Northerns spawn in groups of one female and one to three males. As they swim over the vegetation, the males slap the female with their tails, and she releases 5-60 eggs, which the males fertilize at the same time. The spawning act is repeated every few minutes for an hour or more. The fertilized eggs stick to the weeds. Females leave the spawning areas as soon as they have released all their eggs, but males may stay for a week or more. They do not protect the eggs, though. Over a period of a few days, a single female may lay 8,000-100,000 eggs, depending on her size and health. The eggs hatch in 12-14 days, but the newly-hatches embryos attach themselves to the vegetation using an "adhesive organ" on the tops of their heads. They continue to develop their mouth and fins for another 5-15 days before they swim free and begin to feed.


Conservation and Management
Northern pike are one of Minnesota's premier sport fish. They strike on live bait and many kinds of crank-baits. Hook a 2.3 kg (5-lb) northern and you're in for a fight! Even small northerns provide a tussle if you are fishing with light tackle. Northerns are a tasty fish, but it is a good idea to learn how to remove their "Y" bones as you fillet them.




Permission is granted for the non-commercial educational or scientific use of the text and images on this Web document. Please credit the author or authors listed below.

Photographs by Konrad P. Schmidt
Text by Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic Program

This page developed with funds from the
MinnAqua Program
(Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fisheries)
and the
Sport Fish Restoration Program (Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior)

Maintained by Jay T. Hatch
General College and James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul

Last updated 05 February 2002