Scientific Name: Esox lucius
Ideal Temp: 59-68°F (15-20°C)
Environment: Lake, River, Stream
Technique: Bottom Fishing, Casting, Fly, Jigging, Trolling
Lure Type: Bottom Rig, Crankbaits, Flies, Jigs, Plugs, Soft Plastics, Spinnerbaits, Spoons, Topwater, Trolling
World Record: 25 kg (55 lb 1 oz) Lake of Grefeern, Germany
The northern pike (Esox lucius), known simply as a pike in Britain, Ireland, most of Canada, and most parts of the USA, (also called jackfish or simply "northern" in the Upper Midwest of the USA and in Manitoba, Canada), is a species of carnivorous fish of the genus Esox (the pikes). They are typical of brackish and fresh waters of the Northern Hemisphere (i.e. holarctic in distribution). Pike grow to a relatively large size: the average length is about 70–120 cm (28–47 in). Even so, lengths of up to 150 cm (59 in) and weights of 25 kg (55 lb) are very rare.
Northern pike are most often olive green, shading from yellow to white along the belly. The flank is marked with short, light bar-like spots and a few to many dark spots on the fins. Sometimes, the fins are reddish. Younger pike have yellow stripes along a green body; later, the stripes divide into light spots and the body turns from green to olive green. The lower half of the gill cover lacks scales and it has large sensory pores on its head and on the underside of its lower jaw which are part of the lateral line system. Unlike the similar-looking and closely related muskellunge, the northern pike has light markings on a dark body background and fewer than six sensory pores on the underside of each side of the lower jaw.
Pike are found in sluggish streams and shallow, weedy places in lakes, as well as in cold, clear, rocky waters. They are typical ambush predators; they lie in wait for prey, holding perfectly still for long periods, and then exhibit remarkable acceleration as they strike. In short, they inhabit any water body that contains fish, but suitable places for spawning are essential for their numbers. Because of their cannibalistic nature, young pike need places where they can take shelter between plants so they are not eaten. In both cases, rich submerged vegetation is needed. Pike are seldom found in brackish water, except for the Baltic Sea area. They seem to prefer water with less turbidity, but that is probably related to their dependence on the presence of vegetation and not to their being sight hunters.
The northern pike is a largely solitary predator. It migrates during a spawning season, and it follows prey fish like common roaches to their deeper winter quarters. Sometimes, divers observe groups of similar-sized pike that cooperate some to start hunting at the same time, so "wolfpack" theories are given. Large pike can be caught on dead immobile fish so these pike are thought to move about in a rather large territory to find food. Large pike are also known to cruise large water bodies at a few metres deep, probably pursuing schools of prey fish. Smaller pike are more of ambush predators, probably because of their vulnerability to cannibalism. Pike are often found near the exit of culverts, which can be attributed to the presence of schools of prey fish and the opportunity for ambush. Being potamodromous, all esocids tend to display limited migration, although some local movement may be of key significance for population dynamics. In the Baltic, they are known to follow herring schools, so have some seasonal migration.
Pike angling is becoming an increasingly popular pastime in the UK and Europe. Effective methods for catching this hard-fighting fish include dead baits, lure fishing, and jerk baiting. They are prized as game fish for their determined fighting.
Lake fishing for pike from the shore is especially effective during spring, when the big pike move into the shallows to spawn in weedy areas, and later many remain there to feed on other spawning coarse fish species to regain their condition after spawning. Smaller jack pike often remain in the shallows for their own protection, and for the small fish food available there. For the hot summer and during inactive phases, the larger female pike tend to retire to deeper water and/or places with better cover. This gives the boat angler good fishing during the summer and winter seasons. Trolling (towing a fairy or bait behind a moving boat) is a popular technique.
The use of float tubes has become a very popular way of fishing for pike on small to medium-sized still waters. Fly fishing for pike is another eligible way of catching these fish, and the float tube is now recognized as an especially suitable water craft for pike fly-fishing. Also they have been caught this way by using patterns that imitate small fry or invertebrates.
Many countries have banned the use of live fish for bait, but pike can be caught with dead fish, which they locate by smell. For this technique, fat marine fish like herring, sardines and mackerel are often used. Compared to other fish like the eel, the pike does not have a good sense of smell, but it is still more than adequate to find the baitfish. Baitfish can be used as groundbait, but also below a float carried by the wind. This method is often used in wintertime and best done in lakes near schools of preyfish or at the deeper parts of shallow water bodies, where pike and preyfish tend to gather in great numbers.
Pike make use of the lateral line system to follow the vortices produced by the perceived prey, and the whirling movement of the spinner is probably good way to imitate or exaggerate these. Jerkbaits are also effective and can produce spectacular bites with pike attacking these erratic-moving lures at full speed. For trolling, big plugs or softbaits can be used. Spoons with mirror finishes are very effective when the sun is at a sharp angle to the water in the mornings or evenings because they generate the vibrations previously discussed and cause a glint of reflective sunlight that mimics the flash of white-bellied prey. Most fishermen tend to use small lures, but often that is not advisable because pike have a preference for large prey. When fishing in shallow water for smaller pike, lighter and smaller lures are frequently used. The humble 'woolly bugger' fly is a favourite lure among keen fly fisherman of the southern hemisphere.