Know Your Michigan Fish: Northern Pike (Esox lucius)

Michigan Northern Pike Esox lucius

Northern Pike (Esox lucius), photo by Isle Royale National Park

The Michigan DNR’s Northern Pike page has this to say about this apex predator of the Great Lakes and Michigan’s inland lakes:

As predators, northern pike can have significant impact on their prey species. As with muskies, pike lurk in the cover of vegetation in the lake’s clear, shallow, warm waters near shore, although they retreat somewhat deeper in midsummer. Pike consume large numbers of smaller fish – about 90 percent of their diet – but seem willing to supplement their diet with any living creature their huge jaws can surround, including frogs, crayfish, waterfowl, rodents, and other small mammals. Their preferred food size is approximately one third to one half the size of the pike itself.

Great Lakes pike spawn in the shallows in April or May, right after the ice leaves, and before muskies reproduce. As a result of their eating habits, young pike grow rapidly in both length and weight. Females become sexually mature at age three or four years, and males at two to three years. Beyond sexual maturity, pike continue to gain weight, although more slowly. Great Lakes pike have an average life span of 10 to 12 years.

Pike eggs and new hatchlings (which stay inactive, attached to vegetation for their first few days of life) fall prey in large numbers to larger pike, perch, minnows, waterfowl, water mammals, and even some insects. Larger pike have two primary enemies – lampreys, and man. Spawning adult northern pike, exposing themselves recklessly in the shallows, are vulnerable to bears, dogs, and other large carnivores.

Northern pike flesh excels in flavor, thus making them a doubly rewarding game fish. Since their skin has heavy pigmentation and an unappetizing mucous coating, most people skin them or scale them carefully.

This photo was one of Isle Royale National Park’s “Wildlife Wonders of the Week.” They noted that a five pound female pike will lay about 60,000 eggs. Two weeks later fertilized eggs hatch, hungry for microscopic morsels. Once to the fingerling stage, food scarcity may force them to eat their own siblings for nourishment.

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More Michigan fish on Michigan in Pictures.

2 thoughts on “Know Your Michigan Fish: Northern Pike (Esox lucius)

  1. I have seen the business end of that fish several times – when I was an active fisherman (1950s etc) – Those teeth have also robbed me of some good rigs . Teeth like no other Lake Michigan fish…..(possible exception – pickerel and garpike)? Jean

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