Northern Pike (Esox lucius) - Introduced

48 cm northern pike.

A 20-inch adult northern pike.

Identification. Adults have many small, light spots on a dark background. Cheek fully scaled. Lower half of opercle unscaled. Dark vertical bar under eye absent or faint. Long snout (distance from tip of snout to beginning of eye about the same as distance from back of eye to back edge of opercle). Dorsal and tail fins with dark markings. Typically olive to grayish-blue on back, a little lighter on sides. Spots usually yellow to cream color, belly white. Dorsal, anal and tail fins typically reddish on adults. Juveniles have light barring on a dark background.

33 cm northern pike.

This 13-inch, 1-year old northern pike has fewer light spots than the adult.

Size. Commonly 18 to 30 inches. State survey max. size 43 inches. Conn. State Record 29 pounds, 47 inches. Max. reported size 4.9 feet. North American Record 46.1 pounds. World Record 55.1 pounds.

Distribution. Northern pike have a circumpolar distribution and are found throughout the northern latitudes of the world. In North America, pike are found in most of Alaska and Canada, south into the Northern United States. A self-sustaining population has been present for more than 100 years in the Connecticut River. Pike have more recently been introduced into a number of Connecticut lakes and are occasionally found in other water bodies into which they have migrated or where anglers have illegally transported them.

Northern Pike distribution map.

All maps created in 2009. See CT DEEP Fish Community Data for updated distributions.

Habits. Prefer quiet, vegetated areas of larger lakes and streams. Pike (like pickerel) are considered a “coolwater” fish and feed actively throughout the winter. They almost exclusively eat fish and most often feed by lying still near vegetation, ambushing hapless prey with a lightning burst of speed. Pike spawn in the early spring around flooded vegetation. Very specific spawning requirements limit their ability to reproduce in most Connecticut lakes and ponds. Pike can be caught on a variety of lures or by using live fish as bait.

12 cm northern pike.

A 4.5-inch juvenile northern pike that has not yet developed the light spots on its sides.

Comments. Northern pike are important game and predatory fish. Although pike are good-tasting, most anglers release them because they are “bony.” The northern pike is Connecticut’s largest strictly freshwater gamefish. Most pike populations in lakes are not self-sustaining and, therefore, require annual stockings of 4- to 5-inch fingerlings to support fisheries. Pike will occasionally hybridize in nature with chain pickerel. Characteristics of hybrids are intermediate between the two species.


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.