Northern Pike: Monsters of the Shallows


Black angler with a Northern Pike fish (DEC photo)As one of the largest freshwater sportfish in New York, Northern Pike (Esox lucius), also known as Gator, Hammer Handle, Water Wolf, can get quite big, reaching over 30 pounds in some waters. The current New York State record Northern Pike is 46 lbs. 2 oz., caught in Great Sacandaga Lake in Fulton County on September 15, 1940.
Northern Pike have elongated, torpedo-shaped bodies with light bean-shaped spots on dark background. The cheek and upper half of gill cover are scaled (this variation changes for each member of the Pike family).

Northern Pike typically live in shallow, weedy areas of lakes and rivers during spring, fall and winter; large pike prefer deeper water during summer months, but smaller pike will be found in shallow weed beds year round.

Pike have very sharp teeth and will sometimes use their large jaws to clamp down on a bait or lure, so unhooking them can be a challenge. Having tools such as long pliers and jaw spreaders ready to go can speed the process up. It’s also a good idea to carry hook cutters in case a hook is difficult to remove or has been lodged in a gill.

They also flop around and can be difficult to handle once they’re landed, so using an oversized net to keep the fish in the water while removing hooks is a great choice. Never hold a pike vertically, and always support the belly if taking photos.

Read more stories about fish in new York State.

Photo provided by DEC.

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