It is one of the best-known freshwater fishes. The predatory northern pike is equipped with sharp and long teeth, perfect for holding prey. Inattentive anglers often learned of its effectiveness when bitten by a fish caught and lying on the bank. This aggressive predator is known for its intense hunting activity. Few people know that there are cases of pike attacking birds. A few years ago, a case was reported of a mute swan that died from injuries sustained after being attacked by the fish.
They live in the northern hemisphere.
Their range extends from Alaska through Canadian territory, Europe, Middle East and Central Asia to the Sea of Okhotsk.
Pike can be found in still and flowing waters, both fresh and saline.
The only saltwater habitat northern pike can be found is the Baltic Sea and the mouths of rivers flowing into it. After spending some time in saline water, pike usually returns to freshwater. They prefer clearer waters with the presence of aquatic plants.
The typical body length of these fish ranges from 40 to 55 cm (15.7 to 21.6 in).
Record-breaking specimens can reach up to 140 cm (55.1 in). The weight of adult individuals averages about 10 kg (22 lb), although sometimes pikes twice as massive can be found.
The northern pike is olive-green in color, with a yellow or white tint running along the belly.
Light spots run along the sides of the body forming a blotchy pattern. Dark spots are found on the fins, which are usually body-colored but may be reddish.
Juvenile fish have green skin and yellow stripes run along the body.
As the fish grows, the color changes to olive green and the stripes divide into smaller pieces that form a speckled pattern.
Teeth are only found on the mandible.
They are sharp and point backward, allowing the fish to hold captured prey easily. The snout is flat and long, tapering towards the end.
They are predatory and often hunt from concealment.
Pike (especially the smaller ones) hide in the lush thickets of water bodies and wait for incoming prey while remaining motionless. At the right moment, they make a sudden movement, pouncing on the unsuspecting animal, sinking their sharp teeth into it.
Larger animals tend to follow their prey, while juveniles prefer to attack from hiding.
Adults are found at depths of several meters, following schools of other fish. In the Baltic Sea, the pike has been reported to follow herring schools.
Most individuals lead a solitary life.
Under certain conditions, however, it is better to cooperate. Divers reported that smaller pikes sometimes form little groups called "wolf packs." This can help younger fish catch larger prey and fend off a more massive predator that wants to steal the others' prey.
They exhibit cannibalistic behavior.
At about five weeks of age, the first signs of cannibalism may appear if there is not enough food available. According to research, it takes twice as many of these fish as potential prey for widespread cannibalism to develop in a pike population.
Larger individuals may also prey on waterfowl.
There are documented cases of mute swans and great crested grebes being killed.
They are territorial and aggressive.
Aggression within the species is common and is caused by fighting for space and food. It happens that larger individuals steal prey from younger pikes.
They are mostly active during the day.
A characteristic feature of these fishes is the long time they spend each day foraging and a very fast metabolism. This explains why they can grow so fast when given enough food.
Northern pikes live in rushing streams and shallow, vegetated areas in lakes and ponds, as well as in cold, clear, rocky waters.
Because of the cannibalistic nature of these fish, young pike need places to hide among plants to avoid being eaten.
Their behavior is closely affected with weather conditions.
On sunny and calm days pikes like to stay in the water thickets near the shore, while in windy weather they are found in deeper and more distant waters.
They reach sexual maturity at the age of two years.
Young specimens - one year old - are also able to spawn, but in their case, the quantity of eggs laid is insignificant.
Spawning takes place in early spring - in March or April.
The males arrive at the spawning site a few weeks before the females. During spawning, eggs are deposited in vegetated standing and slow-moving water, most commonly in floodplains, oxbow lakes, and shoals. After the process, male remains in place guarding the nest.
The pike eggs are sticky and yellow, 2.5 to 3 mm in diameter.
They hatch into fry about 10 mm long, which remain in the embryonic stage for 5 to 16 days. The length of the embryonic stage depends on water temperature, with the shortest duration at 19 °C (66 °F) and the longest at temperatures below 10 °C (50 °F). The survival rate of a 75 mm long larva is only 5%.
Young pikes feed on small invertebrates such as daphnia.
As their body weight increases, they quickly move on to larger prey such as flatworms. Once they reach a body length of 4 to 8 cm (1.57 to 3.14 in), they begin to prey on small fish.
The high mortality rate forces the pike to grow rapidly.
Annual specimens living in a food-rich environment can reach body lengths of over 30 cm (11.8 in).
The process of reproduction is tied to the water temperature. When it exceeds 9 °C (48 °F), the fish are ready to reproduce.
They lay a large number of eggs since only a few representatives of this species have the opportunity to live to adulthood. The fertilized eggs stop developing when the water temperature drops below 6 °C (43 °F).
The mortality of fry is affected by high iron concentration and large temperature fluctuations.
Most litters usually grow up in clear and stable waters.
Their life span is between 10 and 15 years.
However, some individuals live up to 25 years. In food-poor environments, pike life expectancy decreases dramatically due to widespread cannibalism.
The population of the pike has declined in recent years globally.
This is influenced by poaching, hobby fishing and inadequate fisheries policy. Factors limiting reproduction also include water pollution and a decrease in available spawning areas.
The world record pike caught so far is 140 cm long.
Petar Filipov is an angler from Bulgaria who caught what appears to be the largest (but not heaviest) documented pike at 25.3 kg (55 lb 12.4 oz).
It is a very popular fish among anglers, who appreciate it for its strength and aggressiveness.
Fishing for pike is usually done with a dead fish lure or spinning/trolling. Catching a large specimen is the dream of almost every angler. The rod for catching bigger pikes should be durable and the line diameter should be at least 0.25 mm.