Northern Pike

Northern Pike


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


Northern Pike Distribution

slow moving, heavily vegetated areas of larger lakes and rivers in the upper 2/3 of the state


mostly fish as adults

State Record

25 pounds, 5 ounces - West Okoboji Lake, Dickinson County, February 1977 - Allen Forsberg, Albert City, Iowa

Expert Tip

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.

Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Red Rock Reservoir Marion 4 miles north of Knoxville 15250.00
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. There is some shore fishing along the parking area and at the outlet of Lake Odessa. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Muscatine Amenities list for Muscatine City Ramp. This ramp is located in downtown Muscatine. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00
Big Spirit Lake Dickinson 1m N Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5280.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
West Okoboji Lake Dickinson northwest edge of Arnolds Park 3847.00
Tuttle Lake Emmet 1 mile east, 2 miles north of Dolliver 2268.00
East Okoboji Lake Dickinson east edge of Okoboji 1835.00
Trumbull Lake Clay 4 miles west, 5 miles north of Ruthven 1183.00
Lost Island Lake Palo Alto 3 miles north of Ruthven 1162.00
Silver Lake (Dickinson) Dickinson west edge of Lake Park 1041.00
Five Island Lake Palo Alto north edge of Emmetsburg 973.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Iowa Lake Emmet 6 miles north of Armstrong 802.00
Chain-O-Lakes Area Linn 2 miles East of Palo 700.00
Silver Lake (Palo Alto) Palo Alto 2 miles west of Ayrshire 648.00
Browns Lake Woodbury 2 miles west of Salix 580.00
Green Island Lake Jackson 1m E green Island 526.00
High Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 467.00
West Swan Lake S.W.M.A. Emmet 3m SE Gruver 379.00
East Hottes Dickinson 378.00
Snyder Bend Lake Woodbury 1 1/2 miles west of Salix 375.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Ingham Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 357.00
Silver Lake (Worth) Worth 10 miles west, 3 1/2 miles north of Northwood 316.00
Blue Lake Monona 3 miles west of Onawa 269.00
Elk Lake Clay 1 mile west, 3 miles south of Ruthven 261.00
Crystal Lake Hancock north edge of Crystal Lake 244.00
Center Lake Dickinson 2 miles west, 1/2 miles south of Spirit Lake 220.00
Marble Lake Dickinson 4 miles North of Spirit Lake 173.00
Diamond Lake Dickinson 2 miles east, 2 miles north of Montgomery 143.00
Minnewashta Lake Dickinson 1/2 mile south of Arnolds Park 118.00
Iowa Lake Osceola 116.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa 104.00
Wapsipinicon River (Oxford Junct to Mississippi R) Scott Wapsi River Environmental Education Center : 31555 52nd Avenue, Dixon, Iowa 52745. Northeast of Dixon along the Wapsi River. And Sherman Park across the River in Clinton County 66.00
Des Moines River (Stratford to Saylorville Lake) Polk The Highway 30 Access is in the middle of this river section and is located 3 miles west of Boone on the north side of Highway 30. 57.00
Little Sioux River (Correctionville to Missouri R) Harrison Little Sioux Park, 2 miles SW of Correctionville, Woodberry County Conservation Board 57.00
Big Woods Lake Black Hawk northwest edge of Cedar Falls 55.00
Badger Lake Webster 4 1/2 miles north of Fort Dodge 45.00
Dudgeon Lake Benton 2 miles North of Vinton. 45.00
Prairie Park Fishery Linn 1.5 miles SSE of Cargill on Otis Road, along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids 42.00
Lake Meyer Winneshiek Located 2.5 miles southwest of Calmar. 40.00
Silver Lake (Delaware) Delaware SE edge Delhi 34.00
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson 29.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00
Schmerse W.A. Pond Clay 7.00
Ashton Park Pond Osceola 2.00