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An elongated fish with a long head, which is depressed forward into a pair of large duck-bill shaped jaws imbedded with many canine teeth. Body color varies, depending on the waters from which it is taken. It usually is bluish-green to gray on the back, and the markings on the sides are irregular rows of light yellow or gold spots. These little markings distinguish it from the Grass Pickerel and Muskellunge. The dorsal fin is 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 14 to 16 branchiostegal rays in the membrane just below the gill cover. There is never more than 10 sensory pores along the undersides of the lower jaws. The lateral line has about 119 to 128 scales. This fish species reaches 3- to 4-feet long and weighs over 30-pounds. Fish weighing 10-pounds or more are fairly common in the larger lakes and rivers.
Upper two-thirds of the state. 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 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 a voracious feeder, and one of the most predatory fishes in our waters. It is an opportunistic carnivore and eats mostly living organisms. The food of the young is mostly insects and their larvae, but as the fish matures, it feeds mainly on fish. Perch, drum, small suckers, sunfish and even smaller northern pike, make up a large part of the diet. Large pike have been known to eat small muskrats, ducklings and shore birds.
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.
Reproduction of the Northern Pike starts right after the ice melts from the lakes and streams. In Iowa, ice-out is usually by mid-March and spawning starts when the water temperature is 35 degrees. The pre-spawning movements into the shallow waters start before the ice is out. A large female, usually accompanied by several 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 25- to 28-inch long female. Fish weighing 25- to 30-pounds can produce 250,000 to 500,000 eggs. Northern Pike usually reach sexual maturity in the third year of life.
The young stay in shallow nursery areas feeding on zooplankton before converting to diet of fish. By fall they reach 6-inches long or more, and at the end of their third year measure 17- to 23-inches. Large fish have been taken, but fish exceeding 20-pounds are rare in Iowa waters.
Although the northern is generally distributed over much of the state and is held in high esteem by most anglers for its fighting ability and excitement during the catch, sport harvest remains low in numbers. Most northern are caught incidentally while fishing for other species. Northern Pike were removed from the commercial species list in 1959 on the Mississippi River. The northern is one of the most under-exploited fish species in the upper Mississippi River. Populations appear strong in pools 9, 10 and 11 and continually provide excellent fishing.
Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.