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Northern Pike

Northern Pike


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.


Northern Pike Distribution

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.

State Record

25 lbs, 5 oz; 45 in. - West Okoboji Lake, Dickinson County, February 1977 - Allen Forsberg, Albert City, Iowa

Expert Tip

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.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 9, Mississippi River Allamakee River Mile 647.9 at Lynxville, WI upstream to River Mile 679.2 at Genoa WI. 35169.00
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Pool 13, Mississippi River Clinton Between Bellevue and Clinton, Iowa. Pool 13 Starts at River Mile 556.7 28117.00
Pool 11, Mississippi River Dubuque River Mile 583 at Dubuque, IA upstream to River Mile 615 at Guttenberg, IA. 19875.00
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 12, Mississippi River Jackson Between Dubuque and Bellevue, Iowa 12349.00
Pool 14, Mississippi River Scott Located between Clinton and Davenport, starts at River Mile 522.5 10291.00
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
Spirit Lake Dickinson One mile North of Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5340.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
West Okoboji Lake Dickinson northwest edge of Arnolds Park 3847.00
Clear Lake Cerro Gordo south edge of Clear Lake 3684.00
Tuttle Lake Emmet 1 mile east, 2 miles north of Dolliver 2268.00
East Okoboji Lake Dickinson east edge of Okoboji 1835.00
Big Timber Complex Louisa Two miles south of Muscatine, IA off of X-61/Stewart Rd. 1252.00
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 1065.00
Five Island Lake Palo Alto north edge of Emmetsburg 973.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
West Swan Lake S.W.M.A. Emmet 3m SE Gruver 830.00
Iowa Lake (Emmet Co.) 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
Little Spirit Lake Dickinson 4 miles north of Orleans 604.00
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
Lake Delhi Delaware 3m W Delhi 448.00
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
Little Swan Lake Dickinson 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 275.00
Crystal Lake Hancock north edge of Crystal Lake 264.00
Elk Lake Clay 1 mile west, 3 miles south of Ruthven 261.00
Martens Lake Bremer 1 mi E of Tripoli 255.00
Bussey Lake Clayton 2 m N Guttenberg 240.00
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
Norwegian Lake Clayton 130.00
Minnewashta Lake Dickinson 1/2 mile south of Arnolds Park 118.00
Iowa Lake (Osceola Co.) Osceola 116.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa This stretch is located in Marshall, Tama, the SW corner of Benton, Iowa, and Johnson County. A popular access is at the Hwy 21 Access, which is part of the Iowa River Corridor Wildlife Area, just south of Belle Plaine. 104.00
Five in One Dam Linn On Cedar River under I-380 in Cedar Rapids 90.00
Turkey River (above Clermont) Fayette This section of river includes the headwaters in Howard county and flows through Winneshiek and Fayette Counties. A popular access is at Vernon Springs Park just 2.5 miles southwest of Cresco. 89.00
Wapsipinicon River (state line to Tripoli) Chickasaw This section includes Bremer, Chickasaw, Howard and Mitchell County. Twin Ponds Park has good access to the Wapsi River and is about 5 miles southeast of Ionia. 88.00
Maquoketa River (below Monticello) Jackson 82.00
East Fork Des Moines (state line to Algona) Kossuth This stretch or river is in Kossuth County. Plum Creek Dam on 240th Street is a popular place to access the river. 80.00
Upper Iowa River (above Decorah) Winneshiek Find this stretch in Howard and Winneshiek County. A popular access is found in Kendallville Park and Campground off of Hwy 139 about 8 miles northeast of Cresco. 79.00
Cedar River (Nashua to La Porte City) Black Hawk North Cedar Park located on the north side of Highway 188 east of Plainfield is an excellent hard surface boat launch. 77.00
George Wyth Lake Black Hawk N edge Waterloo 75.20
Wapsipinicon River (Tripoli to Troy Mills) Buchanan Most angling occurs below Sweet Marsh Reservoir or Highway 3 and south to Troy Mills. 73.00
Winnebago River Floyd Located in Winnebago, Hancock, Worth, Cerro Gordo, and Floyd Counties. A good access point is East Park in Mason City. It offers excellent shore access to the river and a good starting point for a float trip down to the Averydale Access. 72.00
West Fork Cedar River Black Hawk Best access locations are west of Highway 14 below the Big Marsh Wildlife Area in Butler County. 68.00
Maquoketa River (above Monticello) Delaware Access points begin below the dam at Backbone State Park. 68.00
Prairie Park Fishery Linn 1.5 miles SSE of Cargill on Otis Road, along the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids 66.80
Iowa River (Iowa Falls to Marshalltown) Marshall This stretch is located in Hardin and Marshall County. A popular access is located in Pine Lake State Park, just east of Eldora on County Road S56. 66.00
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
Missouri River (Sioux City to Little Sioux) Harrison Chris Larsen Park: 1280 Larsen Park Road/Sioux City, IA. Located on the Sioux City riverfront along the Missouri River. Larsen Park offers 110 acres on the Sioux City Riverfront. Managed by the City of Sioux City. 64.00
Cedar River (above Nashua) Floyd This stretch is found in Chickasaw, Floyd, and Mitchell Counties. A popular multi-use location is the Charles City Whitewater Park in downtown Charles City on Hwy 14. 63.00
Missouri River (Council Bluffs to state line) Fremont Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive/Council Bluffs, IA 51501 phone: 712-366-0220. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lake Manawa State Park has boat ramps on the Missouri River within the park. 61.00
Shell Rock River (above Greene) Floyd Located in Worth, Cerro Gordo, and Floyd Counties. A popular access point is Wilkinson Pioneer Park located at the end of CR B20 in Rock Falls. This park is the start of the Shellrock River Greenbelt and Preserve featuring 7.5 mi. of scenic bluffs. 58.00
Little Sioux River (Correctionville to Missouri R) Harrison Little Sioux Park, 2 miles SW of Correctionville, Woodberry County Conservation Board 57.00
Upper Iowa River (below Decorah) Allamakee This stretch includes Winneshiek and Allamakee County. A popular access is at Lower Dam about 11 miles northeast of Decorah. 57.00
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
Cedar River (La Porte City to Cedar Rapids) Linn This stretch is located in Benton and Linn County. A popular river access is in the Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Area right of Hwy 150 on the North side of Vinton. 56.00
Cedar River (Cedar Rapids to Moscow) Cedar This stretch is found in Linn and Cedar County. A popular access is found in Palisades State Park which is on Hwy 30 between Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon. 55.00
Big Woods Lake Black Hawk Northwest edge of Cedar Falls 55.00
Missouri River (Little Sioux to Council Bluffs) Pottawattamie Wilson Island State Recreation Area: 32801 Campground Lane/Missouri Valley, IA 51555 phone-712-642-2069. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wilson Island Recreation Area has 544 acres along the Missouri River near Missouri Valley Iowa. 53.00
Wapsipinicon River (Troy Mills to Oxford Junction) Jones This stretch is located in Linn and Jones County. A popular access on this stretch is in Pinicon Ridge Park, just off Hwy 13 by Central City. 53.00
East Fork Des Moines (Algona to Humboldt) Humboldt 52.00
Des Moines River (Saylorville to Red Rock) Marion A mid-section access point for this stretch of river is at the Pleasant Hill Boat Ramp. This ramp is located on SE Vandalia Drive immediately east of Highway 65. 50.00
Iowa River (above Iowa Falls) Hardin 49.00
West Fork Des Moines (Emmetsburg to Humboldt) Humboldt 48.00
Dudgeon Lake Benton 2 miles North of Vinton. 45.00
Badger Lake Webster 4 1/2 miles north of Fort Dodge 45.00
Lidtke Impoundment Howard This impoundment is adjacent to Lidtke Mill and located on the Upper Iowa River just north of Lime Springs. 43.40
Charles City Impoundment Floyd Located on the Cedar River in the middle of Charles City. 40.90
West Fork Des Moines (state line to Emmetsburg) Palo Alto 40.00
Vernon Springs Impoundment Howard Located 2.5 miles southwest of Cresco. 39.40
Silver Lake (Delaware) Delaware SE edge Delhi 34.00
Lake Meyer Winneshiek Located 2.5 miles southwest of Calmar on 2546 Lake Meyer Road. Managed by the Winneshiek County Conservation Board. Questions about day use and camping should be directed to WCCB at 563-534-7145. 33.30
Lylah's Marsh County Park Howard Located 3.5 miles northwest of Elma. 32.30
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson This stretch is located in Johnson County. A popular access is the Tailwater East Ramp located right below the Coralville Lake Dam, East of North Liberty and Coralville. 29.00
Gimmel Lake Allamakee 28.00
Shell Rock River (Greene to Shell Rock) Butler The city of Greene is located at the junction of Highway 14 and County Rd. C13. 26.00
Mohawk Park Lake Linn East side of the Cedar River off J Ave. 26.00
Conway Lake Allamakee Pool 09, Mississippi River 20.00
Otranto Impoundment Mitchell Located 0.25 miles east of Otranto, Iowa on the Cedar River. 19.00
Seminole Valley Park Lakes Linn Along the Cedar River in Northwest Cedar Rapids 12.00
Schmerse W.A. Pond Clay 7.00
Ringneck Haven Chickasaw Located 1.5 miles north and 1 mile west of North Washington. 6.00
Twin Ponds Chickasaw Located 2 miles south and 3 miles east of Ionia off of County Road B54 and River Rd. 6.00