Status: Common Native East River,
Introduced Statewide

(Esox lucius)


Northern pike, which are often simply called "northerns," have a very long, slender body. They are most readily distinguished by the long head and snout, which is filled with many long, sharp teeth, and placement of the dorsal fin back
near the tail. Color of the fish is usually green with many lighter spots on the sides and a whitish belly. The eyes are a bright yellow.

In South Dakota, northern pike can grow larger than 40 inches (101.6 cm) and 30 pounds (13.6 kg). The state record fish, as
of 1993, weighed 36 pounds 3 ounces (16.4 kg). Northerns can live past ten years of age, but most will average only five


In North America, the native range for northerns includes almost all of Canada, Alaska, and the upper midwestern United
States. Northerns are also native to much of northern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In South Dakota, they were native
only to the lakes and rivers in the eastern one-fourth of the state. They have since been introduced into many rivers,
reservoirs, lakes and ponds throughout the state. Northern pike generally prefer coolwater habitats and do best in deeper
bodies of water. They have also adapted well to many of the shallower (warmer) prairie lakes of South Dakota.

Natural History

Northern pike spawn immediately after the ice leaves the water in spring, typically when water temperature is around 40 F.
In South Dakota, northerns are the first gamefish to spawn, usually during late March or early April. Male northern pike
typically mature at age two, and females at age three. A single large female may produce up to 600,000 eggs. Northern pike
lay their eggs on submerged vegetation in shallow water in the bays of large lakes, or at the mouth of a tributary or creek.
They do not create a nest for the eggs, nor do they provide any care for the eggs once they are laid. The eggs adhere to the
vegetation and will hatch in less than two weeks. Most of the eggs will not hatch successfully, falling prey to fungus,
invertebrates, or other fishes. The newly hatched fish (or fry), which are about one-quarter of an inch (7 mm) in length, use
their attached yolk sac for food during the first 7 to 10 days, and later feed on zooplankton in the water. Between feedings,
they return to some vegetation, attaching to it via a sticky patch on their heads. Eventually, they begin to feed on small fishes
and their sticky patch will disappear. Young northerns, under ideal conditions, may reach 10 or 12 inches (25.4 - 30.5 cm) in
length by fall.


Northern pike are a popular gamefish because they put up a terrific fight when caught, and because their white, flaky meat is
tasty when cooked. Usually northern pike are active and can be caught by anglers when other fish are hard to catch, which
makes them even more popular during winter ice fishing. Sportfishing for northern pike attracts a large number of anglers
from other states, during spring, and produces a noticeable, positive economic impact on the state. Northerns are carnivores,
usually eating other fishes, and are often the top predator in a lake. In this way, they help balance fish populations by
preventing smaller fish species from becoming overabundant.

Limited archaeological investigations indicate that northern pike were occasionally a part of the diet of American Indians in
eastern South Dakota.

Conservation Measures

Because northern pike are important as predators and are highly sought after as gamefish by anglers, they are actively
managed in South Dakota by the state Game, Fish and Parks Department. Northerns are the third most popular fish in the
state. To protect northern pike populations, the harvest of adult fish is regulated through a creel limit . Each spring, the
Department collects 10 to 20 million northern pike eggs to be hatched and raised in the state's fish hatchery system. The fish
from these eggs are then used to re-establish northerns in lakes where they have died-out, or to supplement natural
reproduction in lakes where good spawning habitat is lacking. In a few cases, such as in reservoirs, the water level can be
managed so that some vegetation is flooded temporarily during the spring to improve natural reproduction.


Carnivore - a meat eater.
Creel limit - the maximum number of fish that can be kept by an angler.
Dorsal - back or top side.
Zooplankton - very small animals that live in the water, and usually eat even smaller plants.


Scott, W.B. and E.J. Crossman, 1973. Freshwater Fishes of Canada. Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Bulletin 184,

Selected Resources For Teachers

Sportfishing and Aquatic Resources Handbook, Instruction and Activities. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,
1991. Grades 4 - 12.
Project WILD by South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Wildlife Division, Education Services, Pierre.

Written by:
Clark Moen, Hatchery Biologist, Blue Dog Lake Fish Hatchery, Waubay, SD 57273. 1995.

Reveiwed by:
Dr. Charles Scalet, Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, SDSU, Brookings, SD 57007.

Publication of the Northern Pike fact sheet was funded by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Division
of Wildlife, Pierre, SD.