Northern Pike (Esox lucius)

Illustration of a Northern Pike fish

(c) MN DNR, C Iverson

Fish of the Mississippi River


Lurking in the weeds of most Minnesota lakes and rivers lies an ever-hungry predator seeking to ambush unwary fish or angler's lures. The northern pike's long, slender body is built for rapid, powerful lunges and its toothy jaws readily grab and hold slippery prey, including frogs, crayfish, small muskrats, and even ducklings. Although northern pike do eat sunfish and bass, it prefers cylindrical-shaped fish without spines because they are easier to swallow.

Water temperature drives where northern pike hang out during the year. As lake ice melts, it can be found in shallow wetlands and flooded areas, where it spawns and the warmer water temperatures prompt development of eggs. As summer approaches, adults and hatchlings move to deeper, cooler water in streams, rivers, and lakes where there are more fish to eat. By late summer, large pike move to even deeper, colder, oxygenated water to keep from losing weight as warmer, shallower water raises its metabolism.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources manages northern pike populations differently across the state. Each region's strategy depends on how fast the fish grow and how much fishing pressure the population receives. By matching growth rates with harvest rates, fisheries managers seek to ensure that catchable size pike are common and in balance with panfish populations and walleye stocking programs.

Fascinating Facts

  • Northern pike may consume up to one-fifth of their weight every day.
  • Northern pike are the most widely distributed fish in North America and is found in all eight river drainages in Minnesota. They are also found in Europe and Siberia.
  • Young (or stunted) northern pike are sometimes called hammer handles due to its shape and size. Anglers don't like to catch these smaller pike because of the gooey mucus layer that protects its skin and because they can be common and interefere the angler's pursuit for a more desired species.


Northern pike are sleek, torpedo shaped fish with a long flat head and jaws lined with rows of needle-sharp and razor-edged teeth that slant back toward the throat. Similar in shape to muskellunge, a pike is distinguished by the rounded lobes on tail and the coloration of light spots on dark background. Fins are often yellowish or reddish brown. An average pike is 18-25 inches long and weights 2-5 pounds.
Present in Park: Common in both rivers and floodplain lakes.
Habitat: Lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers; often near weeds
MN Status: Sport fish

For Further Reading

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2017. “Northern Pike.” Accessed May 4.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2017. “Northern Pike: Three-Pronged Approach Proposed.” Accessed May 4.

Last updated: November 22, 2019

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