A long, slender fish with oval white spots on a greenish back ground. Long, flat jaws with impressive rows of canine-like teeth, which are especially large on the hind-side of each end of the lower jaw. One of the largest of the game-fish class of predators in Illinois, ranging up to twenty pounds in size.
Found mostly in natural lakes and streams in Illinois north of Peoria (40 degrees latitude). The 40 degrees latitude line demarks the southward limit of the range of the northern pike throughout the world.
Prefers the larger size, shallow, weedy lakes with fairly clear water. Many of the glacial lakes of northen Illinois provide now, or once provided, this kind of habitat. Many of the backwater lakes and sloughs off of the rivers present attractive areas to the northern pike.
Sexual maturity usually occurs when males reach 17 inches in length, at which time they are ordinarily going into their third year of life. For females, sexual maturity may occur during the third or fourth year, usually ripe females are not observed less than 18 inches of length. Spawning takes place when water temperatures approach 44 degrees F. The fish will select a slough or marshy area adjoining a lake through which some water flows. A large female will frequently be preceded into the spawning area by several smaller males. Eggs are spread randomly over beds of vegetation and no care is taken of the eggs during the incubation period. Length of incubation is directly related to water temperature, but under ordinary circumstances, hatching can be expected in about two weeks. Females will spawn approximately 9,000 eggs per pound of body weight.
Growth of northern pike is rapid during the first four years of life. After this time, growth is directed more at the waist-line than toward increased length. Rates of growth can vary tremendously, for example, pike in one artificial lake which was newly built grew to 37 inches in four years. The growth rates listed below are average for summer collections made in many areas of northeastern Illinois:
|Length in inches:||14½||18½||22½||24½||29||31||35|
|Weight in pounds:||.56||1.37||2.25||2.96||5.10||6.25||9.5|
Although few fish are collected over seven years of age, some individuals will reach the ripe, old age of twelve.
Stocking and Management
Stocking of young northern pike in areas where this species already exists is a wasteful exercise. Lakes which do not have northern pike populations may not have suitable habitat for this species. It is necessary that a trained fishery biologist assess the facts as to whether an environment is suitable for the introduction of this species. Ordinarily it is not possible to successfully promote northern pike in a lake or pond where other fish are already present, because the young northern pike are extremely vulnerable to being eaten. Best success occurs when the small fish are introduced into a new or a rehabilitated body of water.
The northern pike is a desirable species from several standpoints. It grows to a large size, is relatively easy to catch and a sporting fish on hook and line, is excellent eating fare at the table, and last but not least, it is a good predator fish.
By "predator" it is meant that it eats other fishes, and the part of such predator fishes in maintaining a sort of equilibrium between the smaller fishes and their food supply is important to the welfare of the lake. If survival of panfishes is too great it is possible that such competition for food will develop and the fishes will become stunted in growth. This is a very common fish management problem in Illinois. The northern pike, like the largemouth bass, serves as a natural control on the smaller fishes.
Sometimes northern pike populations are inadvertently condemned to extinction by the draining, dredging, or filling of their nursery sloughs. Protection of these natural spawning areas is important. In areas where no spawning facilities exist, biologists sometimes recommend the construction of artificial spawning sloughs, however, this may involve considerable expense and effort.
The northern pike is a sucker for most artificial baits. He is also a sucker for just a plain sucker, or a golden shiner, or any large minnow presented to him at the right time. For artificial baits the spoons and minnow-like plugs are probably preferred. The pike has even been taken fly-casting and by surprised ice fishermen fishing with weed worms as bait for bluegills.
At the present time in Illinois, the season for the northern runs from May 1st to November 30th, and the legal size limit is twenty inches. Formulating comprehensive laws to apply to a species like this is very difficult, because the welfare of the northern pike varies so much from lake to lake.
The daily limit is five. Northern pike are especially vulnerable to spearing during the spawning season and it is proper that this method of taking them is illegal.
BEST BAITS: minnows, jerk baits, jigs, crank baits, spoons, and spinners
BEST AREAS TO FISH:
Banner Marsh (Johnson Lake) - 600 acres
Beck Lake - 38 acres
Defiance Lake - 47 acres
Des Plaines River
Four Lakes - 19 acres
Fox Chain O'Lakes System - 7,110 acres
Homer Lake - 81 acres
Lake Le-Aqua-Na - 43 acres
Maple Lake - 55 acres
Saganashkee Slough - 325 acres
Skokie Lagoons - 226 acres
Spring Lake South - 610 acres
Sterling Lake - 73 acres
Tampier Lake - 121 acres
Wolf Lake - 391 acres