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Northern Pike

Esox lucius

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Northern Pike. Also called: Great Northern Pike, Jack, Jackfish, Pickerel, Pike, Great Northern Pickerel, American Pike, Common Pike, Great, Lakes Pike.

Northern Pike. Also called: Great Northern Pike, Jack, Jackfish, Pickerel, Pike, Great Northern Pickerel, American Pike, Common Pike, Great, Lakes Pike.

The Northern Pike is one of the most valuable commercial freshwater species in the northwest. It is a strong, persistent fighter, attracting many fishermen because of the challenge it presents. However, in some areas it is considered to be a nuisance because it devours other game fish such as trout, bass and perch.

Identifying features

  • a long, slender, laterally compressed body
  • a long, broad, flattened snout
  • the dorsal and anal fins are located at the end of the body near the tail
  • the back, upper sides and the top and upper parts of the head are a dark brilliant green through olive-green to almost brown
  • the sides are conspicuously marked with longitudinal rows of yellow to whitish bean-shaped spots
  • the underside is cream to white
  • the dorsal, caudal and anal fins are green to yellow, sometimes orange or pale red, with irregular black markings. The paired fins are buff and usually unmarked.

Similar species (native)

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)

The Northern Pike can be distinguished from the Muskellunge by its pale spots and the rounded extremities of its caudal fin.

Where it has been found

The Northern Pike is primarily a freshwater fish with a wide distribution in the northern hemisphere. It is found in rivers and lakes throughout Quebec, Ontario, the Prairie provinces, the northeast corner of British Columbia, and in the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories. It has been legally introduced for sport fishing in some places while other introductions have been illegal intentional introductions.

Ecological and economic impacts

Usually solitary and highly territorial, the Northern Pike lurks at the edge of weed beds and attacks unwary creatures that enter its domain, such as fish, crayfish, frogs, mice, muskrats and young waterfowl. It is an opportunist that can be best described as an omnivorous carnivore, as it feeds on whatever is most readily available.

In most areas of Canada, the Northern Pike is both a commercial fish and a sport fish, while in other areas it is considered a nuisance because it devours large numbers of other game fish such as trout, bass and perch.


The Northern Pike is a cool-water species and its habitat is usually slow, heavily vegetated rivers or the weedy bays of lakes. The Northern Pike spawns in the spring immediately after the ice melts. The breeding grounds include areas that flood only in the spring and early summer and may be dry the remainder of the year. During spawning, Northern Pike swim through vegetated areas of shallow water, randomly scattering their eggs, which then attach to the vegetation.

Origins and mode of arrival

The native distribution of Northern Pike is circumpolar in North America and Eurasia.

Recreational angling is overwhelmingly the number one reason for Northern Pike’s introduction outside its native range in North America and Europe; angling now far outweighs commercial fishing for the species.

Government action

Scientific research

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is studying the Northern Pike population to improve its understanding of how it reacts and adapts to Canadian conditions.

For further information


  • DFO. 2011. Science Advice from a Risk Assessment of Northern Pike (Esox lucius) in British Columbia. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2010/083.
  • Harvey, B. 2009. A biological synopsis of Northern Pike (Esox lucius). Can.
    Manuscr. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 2885: v + 31 p.
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