With the Minnesota fishing opener nigh, all thoughts are on walleye. But let’s give the northern pike its due.

Aquatic 2-by-4s, northerns are the most broadly distributed freshwater fish in the world. Long and slender, northerns’ range includes much of northern North America, Europe and Asia. The fish are common throughout most of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers and likes a habitat with vegetation in quiet or slow-moving water. Northern pike are sometimes called pickerel or snake pickerel. In Canada, they commonly go by “jackfish.”

Northern pike have a distinctive look: their heads are shaped like duck bills, and they have greenish bodies dappled with light spots. They average 5 to 10 pounds, and often reach a length of 10 to 12 inches in a year’s time. But larger northerns are caught all the time. One weighing 45 pounds, 12 ounces was caught in Basswood Lake in Lake County.

Northerns often lie in the weed beds or by submerged logs waiting for food to pass. Their bodies are built for quick bursts of speed, and they’ll strike at anything that excites their curiosity, including sunfish, perch, smaller northern pike, ducklings or small muskrats.

Northern pike grow slowly in colder, northern lakes and grow faster in warmer lakes.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.