The Northern Pike
The northern pike (known as the pike in Britain), Esox lucius, is a species of carnivorous fish of the genus Esox (the pikes). They are typical of brackish and freshwaters of the northern hemisphere (i.e. holarctic in distribution). They are also known by the literal translation of their Latin name, "water wolf".
Northern Pike is found throughout the northern hemisphere, including Russia, , Europe and North America. It is even found in brackish water of the Baltic sea.
Within North America, there are northern pike populations in North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, eastern New York,New Jersey, Idaho, northern New England, most of Canada (though pike are rare in British Columbia and east coast provinces), Alaska, the Ohio Valley, the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, the Great Lakes Basin and surrounding states, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. They are also stocked in, or have been introduced to, some western lakes and reservoirs for angling purposes, although this practice often threatens other species of fish such as trout and salmon, causing government agencies to exterminate the pike by poisoning lakes.
Northern pike are most often olive, shading into yellow to white along the belly. The flank is marked with short, light barlike spots and there are a few to many dark spots on the fins. The lower half of the gill cover lacks scales and they have large sensory pores on their head and on the underside of the 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 grow to a relatively large size; lengths of 150 centimetres (59 in) and weights of 25 kg (55 pounds) are not unheard of. The heaviest specimen known so far was caught in an abandoned stone quarry, in Germany, in 1983. She (the majority of all pikes over 8 kg (18 pounds) are females) was 1.47 m (5 ft) long and weighed 31 kg (67 pounds). The longest pike ever recorded was 152 cm (60 in) long and weighed 28 kg (61 pounds). Historic reports of giant pike, caught in nets in Ireland in the late 1800s, of 41 to 42 kg (89 to 92 pounds), were researched by Fred Buller and published in "The Doomsday Book of Mammoth Pike". The British Isles have not managed to produce much in the way of giant pike in the last 50 years and as a result there is substantial doubt surrounding those earlier claims. Currently, the IGFA recognizes a 26 kg (55 pound) pike caught by Lothar Louis in Lake of Grefeern, Germany, on 16 Oct, 1986 as the all-tackle world record northern pike. Northern pike in North America seldom reach the size of their European counterparts; one of the largest specimens known was a 21 kg (46 pound, 2 ounce) specimen from New York state. It was caught in Great Sacandaga Lake on September 15, 1940 by Peter Dubuc. There are reports of far larger pike, but these are either misidentifications of the pike's larger relative the muskellunge, or simply have not been properly documented and belong in the realm of legend.
Pike are found in sluggish streams and shallow, weedy places in lakes, as well as in cold, clear, rocky waters. Pike are typical ambush predators; they lie in wait for prey, holding perfectly still for long periods and then exhibit remarkable acceleration as they strike. The fish has a distinctive habit of catching its prey sideways in the mouth, killing or immobilising it with its sharp teeth, and then turning the prey headfirst to swallow it. It eats mainly fish, but on occasion water voles and ducklings have also been known to fall prey to pike. Pike will aggressively strike at any fish in the vicinity, even at other pike. Young pike have been found dead from choking on a pike of a similar size. Northern pike also feed on frogs, insects and leeches. It has often been suggested that pike optimally forage on prey that are from 25 to 35% of their body length.
Importance to Humans
Although generally acknowledged as a "sporting" quarry, most anglers release pike they have caught because the flesh is considered bony, especially due to the substantial (epipleural) "Y-bones". However, the larger fish are more easily filleted, and pike have a long and distinguished history in cuisine and are popular fare in Europe. Historical references to cooking pike go as far back as the Romans. The flesh is white and mild-tasting. Fishing for pike is said to be very exciting with their aggressive hits and aerial acrobatics. Pike are among the largest freshwater fish.
Elsewhere, notably in the British Isles, pike are highly-prized as a sporting fish and they are returned alive to the water in order to safeguard future sport and maintain the balance of a fishery. The Pike Anglers Club has campaigned to preserve pike since 1977, arguing that the removal of pike from waters can lead to an explosion of smaller fish, which is damaging to both the sport fishery and the environment.