Pike and Pickerel (Esocidae)

Pike and pickerel silhouette.

A small family (only five species worldwide) of the Northern Hemisphere, only one of which is native outside North America. All members of the pike family have a similar long, slender shape and a large mouth with a duck-like snout and large pointed teeth. They have a forked tail, abdominal pelvic fins, a single soft dorsal fin positioned well back on the body, and no spines. The anal fin is approximately beneath the dorsal fin.

Two native and one introduced pike species exist in Connecticut. All members of the family are predacious, primarily feeding on fish. They are typically non-schooling fish that are associated with vegetation. All spawn in the early spring in very shallow water. A fourth species, the muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), has been occasionally reported in Connecticut, but no reproducing populations are present. Massachusetts stocks “tiger musky” (muskellunge/northern pike hybrids) into some lakes. The closest reproducing populations of muskellunge exist in New York State. Muskellunge can be distinguished from other members of the family by having dark spots or stripes on a light background and scales on only the upper half of their cheeks and opercles.

Click on the species' names below to learn more.

Northern Pike (Esox lucius) - Introduced

48 cm northern pike.


Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) - Native

42 cm chain pickerel.


Redfin Pickerel (Esox americanus americanus) - Native

18 cm redfin pickerel.


Members of the pike family are relatively easy to keep in home aquariums except that they grow large quickly and require live food (almost exclusively fish). They will attempt to eat any fish less than half their size. They are a bit skittish, and may injure themselves by bashing against the tank sides or objects if spooked. If you are going to try keeping a pike species, the best bet is the redfin pickerel, because it doesn’t grow as fast or large.


Text and images adapted from Jacobs, R. P., O'Donnell, E. B., and Connecticut DEEP. (2009). A Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut. Hartford, CT. Available for purchase at the DEEP Store.