The northern pike is popular because of its size and willingness to strike a bait or lure. Angler-caught fish average 2-3 pounds, though northern pike occasionally exceed 20 pounds. The northern pike occurs in nearly all Minnesota's lakes and streams except for the lower reaches of the North Shore creeks and the well-drained watersheds of the southeast.
The following northern pike features distinguish it from the muskie: light markings on a dark green background; lower half of the cheek completely scaled; five or fewer pores on each side of the underside of the jaw; and rounded tail tips. An uncommon variant called the silver pike is dark silver or greenish gray, rather like the "clear" coloration of the muskie; yet it is a northern pike and has the northern pike's scale and pore pattern.
Northern pike spawn in late March to early May. Though they occasionally lay eggs under the ice, they usually begin moving into small streams and flooded marshes when the water temperature is 39 to 52 degrees. Females deposit up to 100,000 eggs at random. The adhesive eggs stick to flooded vegetation for about two weeks before hatching. Northern pike fry feed on plankton and then invertebrates but soon switch to a diet consisting largely of fish.
Built for quick acceleration, they ambush prey from cover, seizing fish with needlelike teeth. Northern pike can't afford to expend that amount of energy in pursuit of morsels; so they concentrate their efforts on larger forage. Indeed, they often swallow fish a third their own length. Common foods are yellow perch, tullibee, suckers, minnows and other northern pike. Though northern pike eat sunfish and bass, they prefer more cylindrical fish. Northern pike also eat leeches, frogs and crayfish.
Small northern pike remain in shallow weedy water through much of the year. Large northern pike move deeper as summer progresses, seeking oxygenated water of 65 degrees or cooler. Large northern pike become lethargic in warm water, eating little and sometimes losing weight. (In prolonged high temperatures and low oxygen, northern pike may actually starve.) Moreover, in midsummer forage reaches peak abundance. For these reasons northern pike fishing falls off in warm weather.