All About Pike
Adapted with permission from an article by Denver Bryan
The fishing menu at Scott Lake Lodge features three entrees—arctic grayling, lake trout and northern pike. While we have a few guests who prize the beautiful and acrobatic grayling above the others and quite a few others who love their battles with huge lake trout, most of our anglers order from their guide the most savage of those entrees, Esox lucius, the great northern pike. This is especially true for our many upper Midwest clients who grew up dreaming of catching a twenty pound pike. Here at Scott fulfilling that dream is always just a cast away. Back home in heavily fished states like Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota a twenty pound pike (a 42-44” fish in Scott’s waters) are mainly fish of old timers vaguely remembered stories. At Scott the sight of a dreaming sized pike coming to the boat is a daily deal. It’s a sight enjoyed hundreds of times each season. Pike dreams here are real, and on the reel. At Scott we are guilty of helping to create a lot of pike addicts, anglers who always need one more line stopping strike of the ultimate freshwater predator.
Like our guides, northern pike have nicknames, many in fact: jackfish, gators, water wolves or tundra sharks. Whatever their name pike are nasty customers who make a habit of inspiring a bit of fear in any angler’s heart. Pike are not a rare fish. They are actually the most widely distributed freshwater fish in the world, spanning all of Eurasia and North America. In North America pike are native to Canada, Alaska and the northern tier of states as far south as Missouri and Nebraska. During the past century they have been introduced to a much wider geographic range including Georgia, Tennessee, New Mexico, Idaho and even California. In some places they have become public enemy #1, gobbling up native fish like the eating machines they are designed to be. In recent years states like Montana have declared war on pike in some of the state’s waters. Pike don‘t belong everywhere.
“Pike are not a rare fish. They are actually the most widely distributed freshwater fish in the world, spanning all of Eurasia and North America.”
They do belong in Canada. By almost unanimous consent of pike anglers the quintessential pike experience is found north of the US border. Just the word “Canada” brings visions of violent, slashing strikes and that baleful pike glare that thrills pike anglers.
Scott Lake, exactly on the border of Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, is right in the sweet spot of Canadian pike range. North of the lodge is unbroken roadless wilderness all the way to the Arctic Ocean, a vast region with nothing but lakes, rivers, caribou, muskox, wolves, tundra and incredible pike water. Food source is the key ingredient in healthy pike populations and these northern waters have the snack items that pike crave–burbot, whitefish, suckers, lake ciscos and the ever present leeches.
But pike aren’t picky eaters, attacking about anything that’s just a bit smaller than they are. Scott guides have often found baby ducks and loons, as well as mice and voles in the stomachs of shorelunch pike and even the occasional muskrat, as one of our guides discovered last season. The rule of thumb with pike is two-thirds: they can swallow prey just a third less in size or weight than themselves. So that 40” trophy pike could gobble down a 26” lake trout or more likely a 26” pike. Cannibalism isn’t a dirty word in pikedom. It happens often as many Scott anglers have experienced when the small to medium sized pike on their line is T-boned by a bigger pike. Pike are also great thieves, classic “kleptoparasites”, taking prey right out of the mouths of other pike. It’s probably why pike hit hard and fast and try to swallow larger prey quickly before their mothers, fathers or distant cousins steal that hard won meal. It’s not an easy trick for the stealer. Inside a pike’s maw you will see lots and lots of teeth, hundreds of them, all slanting inward. They don’t give up their food easily, but they are amazingly able to give up a spinner, spoon or fly. Pike have a “hard mouth” requiring a not-so-gentle hook set and Scott guides have been known to give not-so-gentle reminders of that fact. In pike angling nothing is more important than a solid hook set.
“Pike aren’t picky eaters, attacking anything that’s just a bit smaller than they are. ”
So how big is big with northern pike? In some places huge. The biggest pike though are not found in Canada as many anglers might guess. It’s on the other side of the northern world (northern Europe and Russia) where pike can achieve truly monstrous size. Fish over fifty pounds turn up regularly in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Ireland or Russia. A pike of 77 pounds has been verified but stories of much larger pike abound. It’s all in the diet. Prey species in Eurasia are typically larger with a higher fat content. On this side of the world a fifty pound pike would be right at the top.
The official North American record is 47 pounds but larger pike have been caught in nets or by people who just ate the evidence. And nearly all pike anglers have seen the “internet pike” picture of a monster supposedly caught in Lake of the Woods, Canada (or many other areas) with copy claiming it was anywhere between 50 and 60 pounds. It turns out that fish was real but it was caught in the Netherlands by a guy named Ewout Blom (Google him for the full story) and weighed 39 pounds, huge but not a lot bigger than some North American pike. At Scott our biggest pike top out at just over 50 inches and maybe 35 pounds, but most guides feel there are bigger fish “out there”. That belief keeps a lot of our anglers making “just one more cast”.
“Not all the pike in any lake can be big or old.”
Not all the pike in any lake can be big or old. There is just too much competition. Pike populations follow the wildlife pyramid rule: lots of small individuals at the bottom; fewer mid-sized in the middle and a very few (maybe 1% of the total population) at the top. There are no lakes with only big fish—only in angler’s dreams. And the total number of pike is always limited by the food supply. It’s one of those laws of nature. No matter how many eggs a big female can lay (and that’s a huge number, about 9,000 eggs per pound of pike or around 400,000 for a healthy 45 incher) only half will hatch or only a tiny fraction, an estimated 2%, will turn into juveniles. From there it’s a tough road to becoming one of those 45 inchers all pike anglers want to catch. . . someday.
For an angler the real truth about pike is simply how much fun it is to catch them. In the clear water of Scott and most of its flyout lakes, anglers usually have sight casting opportunities, the classic man (or woman) versus fish situation. It’s a thrilling experience to make the right presentation and watch a pike, big or small, size up your offering, accelerate from a dead stop to 20 miles per hour in a heartbeat and just crush your fly or lure. It’s what brings our pike addicts back season after season, firmly believing that pike are the best thing going in the world of angling.
What are you waiting for? Get addicted!