Northern Pike: What are They and Where are They Found?

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Appearance: What Do Northern Pike Look Like?

The Northern Pike
The Northern Pike (photo via katdaned/Wikimedia Commons and under Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0 (

Each Northern Pike like many other species of fish will look a little different than one another to some extent. The main colors on the range from dark green to a greyish green. Yellow dots or circles are found over the entire length of the body while the underbelly is white.

The teeth on a northern pike are extremely sharp. These pike should be handled with caution as the smaller pike tend to flail from time to time and can leave the handler with deep cuts on the hands and arms. Using a cut resistant glove designed for handling potentially dangerous fish should be worn.

How Big is a Northern Pike?

Northern pike can get quite large, however they grow slowly throughout their lifespan. They grow on average anywhere from 25-30 inches long when they’ve reached adulthood.

The world record northern pike was landed by a German angler in 1986. This impressive fish weighed in just one ounce over 55 pounds (according to the IGFA). Fishbase has suggested that a record pike has reached roughly 62.5 pounds in Germany, however.

Pike vs. Muskellunge: What is the Difference?

Christian Schultz Muskie
There are numerous differences between the northern pike and the muskie (featured above), but the two also carry many similarities (photo via Christian Schultz/Premier Angler)

In comparison, the world record muskellunge – which the pike is often confused for – is considerably bigger. That fish, caught in 1949 on Lake Court Oreilles in Wisconsin, weighed 67 pounds, 8 ounces.

That said, both world records are substantially larger than the average fish of both species. In other words, don’t expect to be landing 55 pound norther pike or 67 pound muskie regularly (if ever).

There are numerous differences (and similarities) between the two species, however, including body shape, aggression, natural habitat, feeding patterns, etc.

We have produced a helpful breakdown that looks at the differences between muskie and northern pike.

Where Do Northern Pike Live: Habitats and Locations

Pike can be found in Canada, United States, Great Britain and parts of Europe. They roam around in lakes, reservoirs and slack waters in streams and rivers.

Outer lines of weed beds in lakes and reservoirs make great hunting grounds for northern pike as they wait for unsuspecting fish to come out of cover. When the current is fast flowing, they can be located in eddies along the banksides of rivers.

Diet and Lifestyle

The diet of the northern pike is pretty much a smorgasbord. They lie in wait until the opportunity presents itself before they strike; usually t-boning their unsuspecting prey.

Main forage for these toothy prehistoric fish include minnows, bass, perch, small mammals, trout and other small game fish.

Natural Predators

Though northern pike aren’t always the top dog when it comes to being the king of freshwater, they are still fairly aggressive teeth laden fish which places them pretty high in the food chain.

Unlike adult pike that usually don’t have to worry about predators, juvenile pike can be found hiding in thick vegetation to help shield them from large muskellunge looking for a quick meal.

How Long Have Northern Pike Lived?

Historical Pike Photo
Historical illustration of a pike (photo via Mary E. C. Boutell/Wikimedia Commons under public domain)

The predecessors of the modern-day northern pike fossils have been dated over 50 million years ago while the current variation goes back roughly a few hundred thousand years or more.

A pike living in a healthy habitat where it flourishes can live up to 20 years. As mentioned before pike have been living on this planet for quite some time and are found in many different continents and countries.

Are Northern Pike Safe to Eat?

Assuming the body of water the pike was taken from is clean and the fish doesn’t contain parasites then the answer to this is a resounding yes!

Pike meat is white and somewhat firm with a bit more sweetness than some other freshwater species.

They can be tricky to fillet as they have quite a few bones to work around but if done correctly a legal pike can yield a good amount of food.

Interactions with Humans

Will Northern Pike Attack Humans?

Most us wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a bite from the mouth of a pike. Their mouths contain hundreds of sharp teeth that pierce unsuspecting prey.

Most injuries occur during the handling process after catching a pike as the gill-plates and teeth are extremely sharp. Thankfully northern pike and muskellunge don’t actively target humans as a food source and attacks on humans is very rare.

Accidents (and unintentional, toothy encounters) do happen, though.

How Should You Hold a Northern Pike?

When holding a northern pike – much the same as holding a muskie – there are two big considerations:

  • Avoiding injury to yourself (especially your hands/fingers)
  • Reducing the fish’s mortality rate

Improper holding can result in some nasty cuts or bleeding from your hands. Like muskie, norther pike have very sharp teeth and gills, so you need to slide your four fingers (excluding the thumb) up the gill plate toward the jaw.

You can read more about the proper technique for holding a northern pike to ensure you follow each step correctly.

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