usually blueish-green to gray on back with irregular rows of light yellow or gold spots on sides (color extremely variable); cheek fully scaled, but lower 1/2 of opercle scaleless; fish weihing 10+ pounds are fairly common in larger lakes and rivers
slow moving, heavily vegetated areas of larger lakes and rivers in the upper 2/3 of the state
mostly fish as adults
25 pounds, 5 ounces - West Okoboji Lake, Dickinson County, February 1977 - Allen Forsberg, Albert City, Iowa
big lures with lots of flash entice feeding northerns
The northern pike is generally distributed over the upper two-thirds of the state. It varies from occasional in a few man-made recreational lakes to common in the natural lakes and large rivers depending on reproductive success. It prefers sluggish, heavily vegetated habitat and is quite numerous in the upper reaches of the large interior streams, such as the Des Moines, Wapsipinicon and Iowa rivers. It is especially abundant in the Mississippi River above Clinton.
The northern pike is an elongated fish with a long head, which is depressed forward into a pair of large duck-bill shaped jaws imbedded with numerous canine teeth. Body color is extremely variable, depending upon the waters from which it is taken. Usually it is bluish-green to gray on the back, and the markings on the sides are in the form of irregular rows of light yellow or gold spots. These little markings distinguish it from the grass pickerel and muskellunge. The dorsal fin is located far back on the body and has 16 to 19 soft rays. The cheeks are fully scaled, but the lower half of the opercle is scaleless. There are from 14 to 16 branchiostegal rays contained in the membrane just below the gill cover. The number of sensory pores located along the undersides of the lower jaws is never more than 10. There are about 119 to 128 scales in the lateral line. This fish species attains a length of 3 to 4 feet and weights of over 30 pounds. Individuals weighing 10 pounds or more are fairly common in the larger lakes and rivers.
The northern pike is a voracious feeder, and one of the most predatory fishes known in our waters. The species is an opportunistic carnivore and feeds primarily on living organisms. The food of the young consists largely of insects and their larvae, but as the fish matures, it feeds primarily on fish. Fishes, such as perch, drum, small suckers, sunfish and even smaller northern pike, comprise a large part of the diet. Large pike have been known to eat small muskrats, ducklings and shore birds.
Reproduction of the northern pike begins immediately after the ice melts from the lakes and streams. In Iowa, ice out is usually by mid-March and spawning begins when the water temperature approaches 35 degrees F. In fact, the pre-spawning movements into the shallow waters are underway before the ice is out. A large female, usually accompanied by several much smaller males, finds her way into shallow marshy areas of streams or flooded grassy margins of lakes. Pike are random spawners, and the adhesive eggs are carelessly deposited over the bottom or on submerged vegetation. Once spawning is completed, the adults return to the lakes and rivers. The eggs are left unattended and hatch in about 12 to 14 days. An average of 63,000 eggs are produced by a female northern pike measuring 25 to 28 inches in length. Individuals weighing 25 to 30 pounds have been known to produce 250,000 to 500,000 eggs. Northern pike usually reach sexual maturity in the third year of life.
The young remain in shallow nursery areas feeding on zooplankton before converting to a fish diet. By fall they reach a length of 6 inches or more, and at the end of their third year measure 17 to 23 inches. Large specimens have been taken, but fish exceeding 20 pounds are rare in Iowa waters. The Iowa record fish weighed 25 pounds, 5 ounces.
Although the northern is generally distributed over much of the state and is held in high esteem by most fishermen for its fighting ability and excitement generated during the catch, sport harvest remains quite low in numbers. Most northern are probably caught incidentally while fishing for other species. Northern pike were removed from the commercial species list in 1959 on the Mississippi River. Since that time, the northern remains as one of the most under-exploited fish species in the upper Mississippi. Populations appear strong in pools 9, 10 and 11 and continually provide excellent fishing.