Esox lucius
Northern Pike

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods



  • Esox, the old Latin name for pike, used as early as Pliny; perhaps derived from the Greek isox, or both the Latin and Greek from a common Celtic root (as in the Welsh ehawc, eog, "salmon")
  • lucius, from the supposed Latin name for the species, likely derived from the Greek lukos, "wolf", an obvious reference to the predatory habits of this fish.
  • Common name is short for pike-fish, a reference to the long, pointed snout resembling the pike, an iron tipped staff. Rather like the French, where brochet is the fish, but broche is a spit.
  • Other common names include: Common Pike, Great Northern Pike, Jack, Jackfish, Northern, Pickerel, Pike, Snake, Gädda (Swe), Štika obecná (Czech), kinoje (Ojibwe)


  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Chordata, animals with a spinal chord
    • Subphylum Vertebrata, animals with a backbone
      • Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fishes
      • Class Actinopterygii, ray-finned and spiny rayed fishes
      • Subclass Neopterygii
      • Infraclass Teleostei
        • Superorder Protacanthopterygii
        • Order Esociformes, the pikes and mudminnows
          • Family Esocidae, the pikes and pickerels
            • Genus Esox, the pikes


  • The largest, and most voracious, predator of northern waters.
  • Length 18"-30", can exceed 4'
  • Weight 20 oz to 8 lbs, to over 40 lbs
  • Color
    • extremely variable, depending upon the waters from which it is taken.
    • back and sides predominantly dark green to olive-green, to almost brown, with irregular rows of yellow to white spots.blueish-green to grey
    • lighter on lower sides
    • underside cream to milk-white
    • tiny gold spot on the tip of most scales - appears flecked with gold.
    • eyes brilliant yellow
  • Body
    • slimy; long, slender, and serpentine
    • lateral line of 119 to128 scales
    • dorsal fin of 16-19 soft rays, located far back on the body
  • Head
    • long and flat, depressed forward into a pair of large, duck-billed jaws imbedded with numerous canine teeth.
    • teeth sharp, backward-slanting
    • cheek fully scaled, but lower half of opercle scaleless
    • number of sensory pores located along the undersides of the lower jaws is never more than 10
    • 14-16 branchiostegal rays in membrane just below gill cover.
  • Lifespan 10-26 years depending upon the area


  • Identifiable as a Pike by
    • long, narrow body shape
    • extreme rearward placement of the dorsal fin
    • pointed snout with strong jaws and numerous sharp teeth
  • The only Pike in the BWCA
  • Outside our area, distinguished from its cousin the Muskellunge or Muskie (Esox masquinongy) by:
    • light markings on a dark green background
    • lower half of the cheek completely scaled
    • five or fewer pores on each side of the underside of the jaw
    • rounded tail tips
  • Silver Pike, an uncommon variant of the Northern, is dark silver or greenish gray, rather like the "clear" coloration of the Muskie.


  • The most widely distributed freshwater fish in the world, found in northern Asia, Europe, and North America.
  • Found in nearly all Minnesota lakes and streams except for the lower reaches of the North Shore creeks and the well-drained watersheds of the southeast.


  • Prefers shallow, weedy, clear waters in lakes and marshes, but also inhabits slow streams. After ice-out, they move further into shallows and marshes to spawn, retreating to deep, cool waters (65º or less) in summer.
  • Small Northerns remain in shallow weedy waters through much of the year.


  • A voracious predator -- consuming three to four times its weight during the course of a year. They ambush prey from weedy cover, seizing fish with needlelike teeth. Concentrating their efforts on larger forage, they often swallow fish a third their own length.
  • Adults feed largely on other fish as well as frogs, crayfish, mice, muskrats, and ducklings. Favorite prey include suckers, shiners, chubs, Cisco (Coregonus artedi), Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens), and other Northerns. Though eating sunfish and bass, they prefer more cylindrical fish. (A better "fit" don't you know)
  • Fry feed on plankton and then invertebrates but soon switch to a diet of fish.
  • Large Northerns become lethargic in warm water, eating little and sometimes losing weight. (In prolonged high temperatures and low oxygen, they may actually starve.)
  • Because of their size and stealth, their only important predator is people.


  • In the 17th century, Izaak Walton gave a recipe for roast stuffed pike that called for sweet marjoram, pickled oysters, mace, claret wine, and anchovies. The result, he claimed, was "too good for any but anglers and honest men."
  • Records
    • US: 46lb 2oz., 1940, Sacandaga Reservoir, NY
    • Minnesota: 45lb 12oz, Basswood Lake, BWCAW, (Lake County).
    • Minnesota (Silver Phase): 18 lbs, 14 oz, from Disappointment Lake, BWCAW, (Lake County)


  • Popular both on hook and on table, the Northern's fight and flavor are both highly esteemed.
  • Unlike other common species of game fish, Northerns are most active when waters are cool and seem to bite best during daylight hours. They are a favorite of ice fishermen. As predators, they prefer live fish baits or reasonable artificial facsimiles thereof.
  • This long, jut-jawed fish has an image problem. In some regions, fishermen disdain it as a "slimy snake" and a destroyer of worthier fish.


  • Spawns in flooded areas of vegetation in early spring, often when ice is still on the lakes. Spawning occurs at temperatures of 34º-40º F, but 36º-37º F seems to be preferred.
  • Females deposit up to 100,000 eggs, scattered at random. The adhesive eggs stick to flooded vegetation, hatching 12-14 days later. There is no parental care.
  • Young remain in shallow nursery areas feeding on zooplankton before converting to a fish diet. By fall they reach a length of 6" or more, and at the end of their third year measure 17"-23".
  • Northerns usually reach sexual maturity in the third year of life.


  • For those of us of northern European ancestry and an interest in such things, this is one of the fishes that would have fed our ancestors in the distant past.


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Last updated on 25 October 2000