Pike Northern

Esox lucius

Malevolent-looking and spear shaped, the northern pike is the namesake member of the Esocidae family of pike. It is a worthy angling quarry, one that grows fairly large, fights well, and accommodates anglers frequently enough to be of substantial interest in the areas where it is found.

Identification. The northern pike has an elongated body and head. The snout is broad and flat, shaped somewhat like a duck bill. The jaws, the roof of the mouth, the tongue, and the gill rakers are armed with numerous sharp teeth that are constantly being replaced. A single soft-rayed dorsal fin is located far back on the body.

Male and female pike are similar in appearance, and both are variable in color. A fish from a clear stream or lake will usually be light green, whereas one from a dark slough or river will be considerably darker. The underparts are whitish or yellowish. The markings on the sides form irregular rows of yellow or gold spots. Pike with a silvery or blue color variation are occasionally encountered and are known as silver pike.

The northern pike can be distinguished from its relatives by three main features. Most noticeably, the greenish or yellowish sides of these fish are covered with lighter-colored kidney-shaped horizontal spots or streaks, whereas all other species have markings (spots, bars, stripes, or reticulations) that are darker than the background color. Their markings are most likely to be confused with those of the chain pickerel. The second distinction is the scale pattern on the gill cover and the cheek. In the northern pike the cheek is fully scaled, but the bottom half of the gill cover is scaleless. In the larger muskellunge, both the bottom half of the gill cover and the bottom half of the cheek are scaleless. In the smaller pickerel, the gill cover and the cheek are both fully scaled. The third distinctive feature is the number of pores under each side of the lower jaw; there are usually 5 in the


pike, northern, jack, jack-fish, snake, great northern pike, great northern pickerel, American pike, common pike, Great Lakes pike; Danish: gedde; Dutch: snoek; Finnish: hauki; French: brochet; German: hecht; Hungarian: csuka; Italian: luccio; Norwegian: gjedde; Portuguese: ylcio; Russian: shtschuka; Spanish: lucio; Swedish: gaddo.

Distribution. The northern pike is densely distributed throughout Alaska, with the exception of the offshore islands, and widespread throughout Canada and the arctic islands above Hudson Bay, being conspicuously absent from the coastal plains (most of British Columbia and the Canadian Atlantic coast east of the St. Lawrence River). In the United States, it is found south of Maine in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts (except along the coast) and in all the Great Lakes states (although it is largely

Pike, Northern 157

Pike, Northern (continued) absent from lower Michigan and Indiana), as well as west of the Great Lakes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, and Montana. It has been widely introduced outside this native range, even into southern and western states.

Habitat. Although classified by biologists as a cool-water species, the northern pike exists in diverse habitats. It is especially known to inhabit the weedy parts of rivers, ponds, and lakes, but it may be found in deeper, open environs in waters without vegetation, or when the temperature gets too high in warm shallower areas. Warm shallow ponds and cold deep lakes both support pike, but large individuals have a preference for water that is in the mid-50°F range. Smaller fish are more likely to be in warm shallow water.

northern pike (rarely 3, 4, or 6 on one side), 6 to 9 in the muskellunge (rarely 5 or 10 on one side), and 4 in smaller pickerel (occasionally 3 or 5 on one side only).

Size/Age. Pike are normally 16 to 30 inches long and weigh between 2 and 7 pounds. Females live longer and attain greater size than males. Pike up to 20 pounds are common in some Canadian and Alaskan rivers, lakes, and sloughs, and fish weighing up to 30 pounds and measuring 4 feet in length are possible. The North American record is a 46-pound, 2-ounce New York fish caught in 1940. The average life span is 7 to 10 years, but in slow-growing populations they may live up to 26 years.

Life history/Behavior. Northern pike spawn in the spring, moving into the heavily vegetated areas of lakes and rivers either just after ice out or, in some cases, prior to ice out. In many places they spawn in wetlands or marshes that will have little or no water later in the season. They are broadcast spawners, and the scattered eggs that fall to the bottom are adhesive. They usually hatch in 12 to 14 days but do so later in much colder waters. In waters that also contain muskellunge, the two species may crossbreed naturally; this occurs rarely but can happen, as muskies spawn in the same or similar environs, although usually after pike.

Food and feeding habits. Pike are voracious and opportunistic predators from the time they are mere inches long. They are solitary, lurking near weeds or other cover to ambush prey. Their diet is composed almost entirely of fish, but it may occasionally include shorebirds, small ducks, muskrats, mice, frogs, and the like. In pike waters, it is common to find scarred fish that were grabbed by but escaped the large toothy maw of a pike. Pike feed most actively during the day and are heavily sight-oriented.

A prominent coarse fish, the rudd is widely sought by European anglers but is barely known to most North Americans. It is a member of the large Cyprinidae family, which includes minnows and carp, and is of similar size and color to its relative the roach.

Identification. The rudd is somewhat cylindrical, yet deep bodied. It has a moderately forked tail and an upturned mouth. The scales are strongly marked, the back is dark brown, and the sides are golden brown, tapering to a white belly. The pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins are reddish orange, and the dorsal and tail fins are dusky. The rudd has 8 to 9 dorsal rays, 10 to 11 anal rays, and eyes that are red or have a red spot. The rudd may be confused with the roach; however, the pectoral fins of the roach lack the reddish-orange color, and the body is more silvery. It is similar in appearance to the golden shiner (see: Shiner, Golden) but is distinguished from that species by its scaled ventral keel.

Size. The maximum size for rudd is in the 4- to 5-pound range, although fish of that nature are rare. A 2-pound rudd is typically a large one.

Life history/Behavior. Spawning takes place in heavy weeds in spring, when rudd broadcast numerous adhesive eggs, rather than construct a nest. The fry stay in schools and gather in large congregations, and they provide forage for numerous predators. Rudd remain a schooling fish as adults. Their schools generally consist of similar-size individuals.

Food and feeding habits. Rudd feed on snails, aquatic insects, and small fish and spend a lot of time in beds of vegetation. They are largely surface feeders, but they also feed on the bottom and at mid-depths. Many rudd are observed taking food from the surface or from the undersides of aquatic plants.


European rudd; German: rotfeder; Italian: scardola.

Distribution. Rudd range from western Europe to the Caspian and Aral Sea basins but are absent from Russia; they have been introduced to the United States.

Habitat. Pools, canals, lakes, and slow-running rivers with muddy bottoms are the prime locations for rudd. They spend much time in or along the edges of vegetation.

Rudd 159


Eurasian ruffe; French: gremille; German: kaulbarsch; Polish: jazgarz; Russian: yersh obyknovennyi.

Habitat. The ruffe occurs in freshwater and in brackish waters with 3 to 5 parts per million salinity. It exists in a variety of lake environments, preferring turbid areas and soft bottoms without vegetation. In rivers, it prefers slower-moving water. It is more tolerant of murky and eutrophic conditions than are many other perch.

A member of the Percidae family of perch, the ruffe was introduced into North America, evidently through ballast water discharge by transoceanic ships. It has become a considerable threat to the delicate predator-prey balance necessary to maintain flourishing fisheries in North American waters, especially in the Great Lakes. It has been reported only in Lake Superior waters but is likely to exist, or spread, elsewhere.

The species found and multiplying in Lake Superior has been identified as Gymnocephalus cernuus. The native range of G. cernuus is from France to the Kolyma River in eastern Siberia, and it has been introduced to England, Scotland, and Scandinavia.

Identification. The ruffe's body shape is very similar to that of the yellow perch, and its body markings are similar to those of the walleye. It has a spiny first dorsal fin connected to a second soft dorsal fin, two deep sharp spines on the anal fin, one sharp spine on the pelvic fins, and sharp spines on the gill cover. The dorsal fins have rows of dark spots, the eyes are large and glassy, and the mouth is small and downturned. There are no scales on its head.

Size/Age. The ruffe seldom exceeds 6 inches in length but can attain a length of 10 inches. Most female ruffe live for 7 years but may live up to 11 years. Males generally live 3 to 5 years.

Life history/Behavior. The ruffe generally matures in 2 to 3 years and spawns between mid-April and July, depending on location, temperature, and habitat. Young ruffe have a faster growth rate than many of their competitors, and adults reproduce prolifically, which allows for quick population expansion. It is a nocturnal fish, spending its days in deeper water and moving shallower to feed at night.

Food. The ruffe's primary diet is small aquatic insects and larvae, although it may consume fish eggs.

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