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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Northern Pike - Esox lucius

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status


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General Description
The northern pike is Montana's lone representative of the pike family. It is native to Montana only in the Saskatchewan River drainage on the east side of Glacier Park. However, widespread introduction, both legal and illegal, now makes the northern pike a common gamefish statewide except for southwest Montana. Northern pike thrive in standing or slow-moving waters of lakes, reservoirs, and streams, especially where dense vegetation grows. Because of their voracious fish-eating habits they can literally eliminate their food supply in only a few years, leaving a population of terminally-stunted "hammerhandles." It is for this reason that widespread illegal pike introductions in western Montana have become a fishery manager's nightmare. And in the prairie streams of eastern MT, pike have caused widespread elimination of multiple native prairie minnow species (that did not evolve with predatory fish) in permanent and intermittent drainages. Northern pike spawn in early spring just after ice-off. They broadcast their eggs over flooded shoreline vegetation. The eggs adhere to the vegetation until the young are ready to swim on their own. Northern pike can grow to nearly 40 pounds in Montana and provide a truly outstanding sport and food fish in the appropriate waters.

Species Range
Montana Range

All Ranges
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Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 2611

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Have been shown to move long distances to spawn in tributary streams.

Bays of lakes and reservoirs; pools and backwaters of streams. Seeks areas with dense vegetation. (Holton 2003)

Food Habits
Highly piscivorous. Feed almost exclusively on fish after reaching 3-4 inches in length. Other vertebrates also taken. Use vegetation as hiding spots to ambush prey.

Females larger than males. Reproductive success in reservoirs may parallel the fluctuating water levels. Small weedy tributaries are important spawning areas in southeast Montana; also used as rearing areas.

Reproductive Characteristics
Males reach sexual maturity in 2 years. Spawns after ice-out in March - May. Eggs stick to vegetation and hatch in 2 weeks. Spawned early April-mid May in middle Missouri River with late April to early May peak.

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Citation for data on this website:
Northern Pike — Esox lucius.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from