Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Northern Pike

Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

They were trolling the waters for a big fish, the musky. “Fish on,” were the words heard from the boat as the sound floated across the water. It was a decent sized fish, but it wasn’t a musky. Instead, it was the struggle of a northern pike that was brought into the boat. This tooth-filled mouth earns its place as the second largest predator fish in northern Wisconsin.

Northern Pike have a duck bill shaped long snout that is lined with sharp canine type teeth. Their olive-green upper sides are marked with longitudinal rows of yellow spots. This “handsome-looking” fish can live for more than 20 years.

The northern pike is a cool-water species whose habitat is usually warm, slow, and shallow, heavily vegetated rivers or the weedy bays of lakes. They also can be found in cold, clear, rocky water bodies. A solitary and territorial fish, northern pike ambush their predators, laying in wait at the edge of weed beds to dart out, attacking with surprising speed. Young northern pike feed on immature aquatic insects and then fish. Adults will eat fish, crayfish, ducklings, muskrats, frogs, leeches or mice. Northern pike are known for being less particular about their food choices. They will even eat younger pike fish, making it critical for the young pike to find safe shelter among vegetation. Northerns typically catch their prey sideways, immobilizing their prey with the backward pointing teeth, and then turning the prey headfirst so they can swallow it. Younger pike have been found dead having choked on a pike of a similar size.

It may be that the catch and release fishing of my family has been the best way to catch glimpses of a northern pike. A swirl or swish at the water’s surface makes me take a second look, hoping for a view of a fish. These fish are just one of the many enjoyable experiences we can look forward to experiencing in our northwoods back yard.

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and new exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Post your own stories on the Nature Watch blog at

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