Northern pikes: Characteristics, habitat reproduction and more

Let’s meet the awesome northern pikes or Esox Lucius in scientific terms which are also known as Common pikes; Great Lakes pikes, Great northern pickerel and Jackfish).

This fish has the name of pike because that was the name of the Polish weapon to which it resembles. Moreover it’s a carnivorous creature very common either in the brackish and sweet waters of the northern hemisphere, which is to say, that this species has a  holartic distribution


Animalia Kingdom Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata  Superclass: Osteichthyes  Class: Actinopterygii   Order: Esociformes

Family: Esocidae  Genre: Esox Species: Esox Lucius

Northern Pikes: Hierarchy of Biological Classification

Physical Description

Northern pike reaches around 20 inches in total length. Their single dorsal fins as well as the colored spots along their body are probably their most distinctive traits. In addition, they have scales that cover their cheek and the upper half of their gill covers. Their color is mainly olive green with some shades of yellow and white on their belly, while their flanks pose bar-like short and light spots.

The young specimens have yellow stripes along their body. Their crocodile-shaped head has sensory pores especially in the lower part of the jaw, which are very useful for exploring the environment in which they inhabit. Unlike the codfish of similar and closely related appearance, northern pikes have less than six sensory pores in the lower part of each side of the lower jaw.

Northern Pikes Common Behavior

The Great Lakes pikes, (as they are also known) develop very fast movements by gusts to start swimming, which are scary for their prey since they are very unpredictable. They use such movements not only to start swimming, but to prevent threatening situations.

Northern pikes usually have a sedentary life, but when they detect their prey, they use their bursts to capture them without too much trouble. Some of their movements are S-shaped and are very useful for swimming at high speeds. When they want to slow down, they have to perform a C-shaped swim that helps them reduce their speed very noticeably.


Their fast digestion is a key factor for their accelerated movements, since by not having to expend energy in such a long digestion; they can carry out their explosions of speed almost instantaneously. This is how they get most of their prey during the day, while during the night they are quite calm and rest most of the time.

Let’s watch them

Where do Northern Pikes Inhabit?

The northern pikes usually inhabit slow and shallow streams of water. It’s worth pointing out that in order for them to carry their fast movements, the water speed must be low or it would become a huge hurdle to overcome. You can also find them in places where there are weed in the lakes, as well as in cold, clear and rocky waters.  

Jack fish (another of their nicknames) are predators that use the ambush as an attacking strategy. They hide quietly between the rocks to assault their prey with their gust in the best possible moment. They are able to reserve their energies and remain motionless for a long time so that their ambush is the best possible.

Northern pikes can be found in any habitat that has a body of water and abundant food for them. However, they need places suitable for spawning, as it is an essential condition for their reproduction. Often they can be seen with cannibal behavior, so that the pikes need habitats where they can take refuge between plants to not be eaten by their own species.

The less turbid the water the better for them, because of their dependence on vegetation to hide from predators. In murky waters grow few plants due to lack of light and strong water streams so they will have problems to hide from predators and/or preys.

How Northern Pikes Reproduce?

Spring is the best season of the year for northern pikes to reproduce. This can be due to several reasons. During spring they have more prey to feed which cross their habitat carrying out migration journeys. It can also be due to better energy conservation thanks to the warmer water temperatures.

Spawning and Sexual Maturity

Northern pikes reach sexual maturity and reproduce from two years of age. They spawn during spring time when the water temperature reaches around 9ºC. The females lay a large number of eggs which ensures the species preservation, since more than half of the eggs will not become adults.

Once the eggs are released by the female northern pikes, if the water temperature is less than 6ºC they will not hatch. Perhaps this will explain why they breed in the spring.

Other species of Pike Fish

American Pickerel (Esox americanus)


The Two known subspecies by some authors are:

Esox americanus americanus Gmelin, 1789

Esox americanus vermiculatus Lesueur, 1846

Main Traits

Their maximum length is less than 40 cm. American Pickerel lack thorns in the dorsal fin and in the anal one.  They have a sturdy, almost cylindrical body with a flattened and slightly concave dorsal surface and a large and flattened head. The snout is short with a slightly convex tip. Their mouth is large and reaches up to the middle of the eye with moderately large teeth.

Body Color

They have a dark greenish body with an amber belly sometimes mottled. A discrete dorsal pale band goes from the nape to the base of the dorsal fin. In addition, American Pickerels have between 20 to 36 dark bars on their sides. The eye’s pupil is yellow with a golden iris and the dorsal fin has a dark pigmentation.

Let’s watch them

Habitat and Distribution

American Pickerels are freshwater fish of demersal behavior since they inhabit the bottom of lakes. They are distributed through the river basins of the Atlantic slope of North America, from the San Lorenzo River basin in Quebec (Canada) to the south of Georgia in the United States, as well as the Gulf of Mexico slope from Pascagoula to Florida.

American Pickerels live in lakes, swamps and stagnant waters, as well as in slow backwaters of the streams, where they generally prefer to live between the vegetation.

You can also find them hidden between the weed of shores’ bushes and in very few occasions they inhabit the open rivers. Juvenile specimens are found in flood ponds and streams, between roots, twigs, leaves and grass a few centimeters from the surface. They mainly feed on all kinds of crustaceans, fish and insects.


Fishing  Pike Fish

Late May and early June is the best season to catch the biggest specimens. Most northern pikes spawn during the full moon cycle in April and by mid-May. When the spawn is over they try to regain all the weight they lost this being the best time to fish them. Here are some of the best available tips that will immediately improve your success.

Playing with Baits

Northern pikes are known for playing with baits. They sometimes hit baits and let them go without follow and/or catching them. Avoid setting the hook until the fish tries to run with the bait. If you lose a northern pike don’t get annoyed, since it will probably strike it again.

Bait Size

When trying to catch a monster northern pike you’ll need something really big. Large northern pikes won’t waste the time or energy chasing small bait fish. So, a bait that is between 6 to 8 inches long would be the best option.

Best Type of Lures:

Dardevles and jerk baits are the best option for northern pikes since they replicate the type of bait fish that inhabit the northern pikes’ natural habitat.

Fish the Weeds

Small to medium northern pikes are usually found near heavily weeded areas. This is because they are ambush predators who like to ambush their prey.

Fishing Methods for Northern Pikes

The Pair trawling is a very popular technique among fans of this sport as well as the use of floating tubes which has become a very popular way of fishing pike in small and medium-sized calm waters.

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Are Pikes Safe to Eat?

. Yes! Northern pikes are safe to eat. In fact they are also some of the healthiest foods available due to their high proteins content as well as  other important nutrients, including selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and niacin. However, Northern pikes eat other fish which places them high in the food chain. Fish that eat other fish usually have high levels of mercury so it’s highly recommended to eat them fresh. We invite you to read our article bonito fish to learn more about mercury in fish

Cooking Pike Fish

Pike fish aren’t considered a suitable fish to serve at dinner because of their weird appearance and their abundance of thorns. However, most fishing fans know that very tasty meals can be made with these freshwater fish. If cooked properly, pikes are firm and substantial and their meat crumbles, so it’s better to prepare them entire so their natural flavor will be highlighted. Once you have finished cleaning and filleting a freshly caught pike, you can enjoy it baked, grilled or fried until it acquires a perfect golden brown color.

Baking the Pike Fish

    • Preheat the oven to 190 ° C (375 ° F). Set the oven to work by convection and let it start to heat while you clean and season the fish. You must be careful that the central grid has enough space
    • Keep the oven temperature slightly low. This will help the fish cook completely and evenly without falling apart.
    • Season the fish to your liking. Place each fillet of pike on a aluminum sheet foil and then incorporate the herbs, spices and other ingredients you want. Once you have finished seasoning, fold the edges of the aluminum foil around the fillets, taking care to cover them completely.
    • If you bake the fish without covering it, you will get a final product that is too dry.
    • You can use aromatic ingredients, such as onion, capers, sliced sweet peppers and oregano, to add a touch of flavor to baked pike, or to do something simple by adding a little chopped garlic and sprinkling it with butter infused with lemon.
    • Place the pike on a large baking sheet. Place the pike fillets wrapped in aluminum foil on the baking sheet so that there is a little space between each of them. Open the oven door and place the tray on the central grid.
    • Not only does aluminum foil cause the fish to heat up more efficiently, it also traps moisture, which helps the condiments cook inside the meat itself.
    • Bake the fish for 20 to 30 minutes. Monitor how long the pike has been in the oven with a timer. The pike should be tender and crumble when it is ready, and should have a uniform opaque white color. Let the steaks cool for a few minutes and then place them on plates to serve them.
    • To test if the steaks are ready, you can cut them with a fork.
    • Do not overcook the fish. Otherwise, it can become soft and bland.

Grilled Pike Fish

    • Turn on the grill. Brush the grill thoroughly and then turn it on to a high temperature (around 175 ° C or 350 ° F). You should let the grills warm while you finish seasoning and preparing the pike. The pike fish will cook better the hotter the grill is and this will also make your dinner ready faster.
    • So that the fish does not stick, be careful that the grill is as clean as possible. Also, you must cook it for less time at high heat.
    • You can also use a grill pan. This will give you a surface that heats more evenly so that the pike can be cooked completely and evenly.
    • Season or marinade the fish. Sprinkle the fillets with a pinch of dehydrated dill, salt of garlic or pepper with lemon or apply a thin layer of molasses and grounded peppers with a brush. Also, you can marinate the pike in advance during 3 to 4 hours with your favorite marinade for seafood
    • Drain the excess of the marinade of the fillets before placing them on the grill, since it is possible that, if they are too wet, they crumble when exposed to heat.
    • Cook them on the grill for 10 to 12 minutes. Place the fillets diagonally on the metal grid along the sides of the grill. You must turn them once half the time has elapsed so that you are sure that they cook evenly on both sides. For the rest, you should avoid manipulating them, because if you do it in excess, they are more likely to be destroyed
    • A good rule of thumb is to grill them for about 10 minutes per 2.5 cm (1 inch) of thickness.
    • In case you are going to use a grill pan, you should space the fillets so that they are separated.
    • Serve the pike with the accompaniments you want. Grilled pike blends well with other healthy products, such as steamed broccoli, sorgin handi-marroi mushrooms or pilaf rice, but you can also present it in a more basic way with ripe sliced tomatoes and corn cobs, letting the fish does most of the work. In any case, one of the most nutritious ways to serve a lean fish full of protein such as pike is cooking it on the grill.
    • To cook steamed a complete meal in one easy and quick step, you can wrap both pike fillets and substantial vegetables, such as asparagus or new potatoes, before placing them on the grill.
    • You can give the final touches to the meal by preparing a green mixed salad or a cabbage salad with fresh seasonal root vegetables.


Fried Pike Fish

    • Flour it. Mix 2/3 cup of milk (160 ml) and one whole egg in a small mixing bowl. Then, submerge each pike fillet in this dairy mixture and then cover both sides with flour (if you like the crunchiest fish, you can apply two layers of flour). Reserve the floured fillets in a separate dish filled with flour
    • If you want to give your dish more flavors, you can season the flour mixture with spices, such as salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and garlic or onion powder
    • You can also make dough to fry the pike in plenty of oil by mixing approximately one cup of flour with the dairy ingredients and then dipping the fillets in a beaten egg.
    • Fill a deep frying pan with oil. If you are going to fry the pike in a traditional way in the frying pan, you should pour it around between 2/3 and 1 cup of peanut oil or rapeseed (160 to 240 ml). If you are going to fry the pike in abundant oil, you will have to pour up to 1 liter (a quart) so that the fillets can be immersed in their entirety. You Must Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it starts sizzling.
    • Be careful to use a skillet that has enough space for oil and steaks without splashing or spilling.
    • Fry fish until golden brown. The thickness and size of the fillets will determine how much time it will take to cook them until a perfectly crunchy finish. Your eyes will be your best ally for such purpose. Once the steaks are as ready as you want, remove carefully from the frying pan with pliers and empty on a layer of towel paper so they can absorb excess oil.
    • When frying Steaks in the traditional way, remember to turn them over so that they can be cooked evenly on both sides.
    • Keep in mind that the fish usually cooks very fast in the hot oil, so you should be prepared to remove it from the skillet when the dough just starts to become dark.

Bon appétit


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