Pike Characteristics Defined
Pike Characteristics Defined
Nicknamed "waterwolves," members of the pike family are well known for their predatory nature. Solitary fishes, lurking in the shadows to ambush their prey, pike have highly carnivorous habits which have generated hundreds of fish stories ranging from swimmers being bitten to a favorite pet being eaten while going for a swim. While most of these stories are just that - stories - some are not.
Pike are generally found in shallow, warm water areas near weedbeds or other cover. They are easily distinguished from other fishes by their long, slender bodies and duck-shaped bills. Their large mouths contain needle-sharp teeth which are very effective in grasping and holding fish. Pike have forked tails and a single dorsal fin located far back on the body. Their green or brassy coloring allows them to blend in easily with a weedy environment.
As a group, pike are remarkably variable in size. On the smaller end of the scale, the redfin pickerel rarely attains a weight exceeding one pound, whereas the largest member of the family - muskellunge - is the largest freshwater game fish in New York State and may weigh more than 50 pounds. Regardless of the species, all pike are fast growers, with females growing faster and living longer than males.
Pike have voracious appetites. An adult pike is mostly piscivorous (fish eating), but it will also eat frogs, mice, ducks, and even muskrats. The pike's body shape, coloring, and eating methods are well suited to its predatory nature. The pike ambushes its prey, patiently waiting in the concealment of vegetation or near stumps for food to go by. Contorting its arrow-shaped body into a slight "Z," the pike springs forward to seize the unsuspecting prey sideways in its mouth, then retreats to cover before rotating the prey in its mouth and the swallowing it head first. A large portion of a pike's diet is spiny finned fish, and swallowing them head first ensures the collapse of the fins.
A pike generally prefers one large food item over several smaller items. Its large mouth enables it to eat larger fish and often it will grab a fish one-third to one-half its own length. If the pike cannot swallow the fish whole, it will sometimes swim around with the tail protruding from its mouth until the head is digested, allowing room to swallow more.
Pike reproduce (spawn) in the spring. They are random spawners, broadcasting their eggs and milt over vegetation or bottom debris in shallow marsh areas and in flood plains. Unlike some other fish, such as bass or bullheads, pike build no nests and give no parental care to the eggs or young. The highly adhesive eggs stick to whatever they land on. Eggs hatch after eight to 15 days and the young have to fend for themselves. Within three to four weeks, young pike develop their carnivorous habits and will even begin eating other young pike.
The pike's habit of spawning on flood plains can, at times, become a serious problem for its survival. Even slight decreases in the water level can result in the stranding and death of young. In certain areas, this factor limits the abundance of the species.
Many species of fish look alike, making it difficult to tell them apart. In addition, many types of fish have different common names in different parts of the country. To distinguish one organism from another, biologists give each a scientific name that is unique to that organism. The names are derived from the Latin language and consist of genus and a species. The genus name is listed first and is capitalized. The species comes second and is in lower case. Both the genus and species are either underlined or italicized when written. While several organisms in the same "family" share a common genus name (like family members sharing a last name), they have different species names. Occasionally, two members of a family are so similar that one is considered a subspecies of the other.
Fishing for Pike
Pike are among the most aggressive freshwater fish species available to anglers, readily striking both artificial lures and live bait. Pike fight hard when hooked and make a tasty meal. Fishing near weedbeds, stumps, and dropoffs with spinners, spoons, plugs, and minnows often brings good results.
The larger members of the pike family, especially northern pike, muskellunge, and tiger muskellunge, provide good trophy fishing. But, whether you are ice fishing or fishing during midsummer, a heavy monofilament or wire leader is a worthwhile addition to your tackle. The pike's sharp teeth can easily cut through light monofilament line. To save fingers, anglers will also find it helpful to bring along needle-nosed pliers to extract a hook from a pike's mouth.
Six members of the pike family, some common, some not so common, are found in New York State's waters: chain pickerel, redfin pickerel, grass pickerel, northern pike, muskellunge, and tiger muskellunge. While many New Yorkers refer to walleye as "walleye pike" or "yellow pike," the walleye is actually a member of the perch family and so is not discussed here. Persons interested in finding more detailed descriptions for any member of the pike family can refer to the book, "The Inland Fishes of New York," by C. Lavett Smith.
New York DNR