Common name: Northern pike
Scientific name: Esox lucius (Esox comes from the old name for pike in Europe and lucius comes from the supposed Latin name for the species).
Appearance: Though it’s possible to confuse northern pike with its esox cousin, the muskellunge, pike are distinguished by rows of light spots on their darker, green bodies, and their vaguely duckbill-shaped mouths.
Distribution: Though northern pike have spread all throughout the continent, they remain most common in the cooler waters of the Great Lakes region. However, since their rate of growth is tied to temperature, pike grow much larger more quickly in southern regions.
Spawning: In the springtime, when the water reaches 34ºF to 40ºF, pike will migrate into the warmer shallows under cover of night, then spawn the following afternoon when the temperature is at its peak (up to 50ºF). One female will lay her eggs in emergent vegetation, where they will be fertilized by up to three males. There is no parental care after fertilization.
Angling: Unlike most fish, pike become more active at cooler temperatures, making them a great gamefish at times when other species aren’t biting. Pike do all their feeding during the day, with spring, fall, and winter being their most active months. The fish retreat to the cold depths during the summer months, where they continue to feed, albeit not nearly as aggressively. In winter, pike are an ice-fishing favorite, when they can often be caught on tip-ups. Their preferred haunts are weedbeds near dropoffs, where they can enjoy protective cover and dense forage while remaining a short distance from cooler, deeper water.
Bold predators, pike will attack nearly anything. Though their main sources of sustenance are small fish and minnows, they’ve been known to swallow ducklings and muskrats. Big lures on medium to heavy baitcasting gear is the way to go. Bait-wise, most anything could work, though large, wobbling spoons and plugs and live bait work best. Floating a big, weighted lure on a bobber along the edge of weedlines makes an effetive pike-catching presentation, or else work an artifical lure slowly along the bottom – casting frequently with a quick retrieve once you’ve let it sit for a few moments. Trolling a large spoon at low speed is another way to get results.
The strike of a northern pike is unmistakable, as the fish will attempt to turn the bait around to swallow it head-first. This provides fishermen with plenty of time in which to set their hook and hook the fish with a quick, vertical lift once the bait has been swallowed. If all goes well, you’ll have the fish securely hooked and won’t find it too difficult to boat.