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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
Non-native
Native
(Click legend blocks to view individual ranges)
 


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

Recency

 

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



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

Habitat
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.

Ecology
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.

References
  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Holton, G.D. and H.E. Johnson. 2003. A field guide to Montana fishes. 3rd edition. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Helena, MT. 95 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Barfoot, C.A. 1993. Longitudinal distribution of fishes and habitat in Little Beaver Creek, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 66 p.
    • Barndt, S.A. 1996. The Biology and Status of the Arctic Grayling in Sunnyslope Canal, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 136 p.
    • Craig, V.E. 1952. A story of fish production as it applies to Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 92 p.
    • Guzevich, J.W. 1993. The relationship of physical habitat to the distribution of northern pike and walleye in two Montana prairie streams. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 94 p.
    • Hendricks, P., S. Lenard, D.M. Stagliano, and B.A. Maxell. 2013. Baseline nongame wildlife surveys on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Report to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 83 p.
    • Mullins, M.S. 1991. Biology and predator use of cisco (Coregonus artedi) in Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 68 p.
    • Penkal, R.F. 1977. Black bass populations of the Tongue River Reservoir, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 111 p.
    • Stash, S.W. 2001. Distribution, relative abundance, and habitat associations of Milk River fishes related to irrigation diversion dams. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 82 p.
    • Stevenson, H.R. 1975. The trout fishery of the Bighorn River below Yellowtail Dam, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 67 p.
    • Stringer, A.L. 2018. Status of Northern Pearl Dace and chrosomid dace in prairie streams of Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 150 p.
    • Sylvester, R. and B. Marotz. 2006. Evaluation of the Biological Effects of the Northwest Power Conservation Council's Mainstem Amendment on the Fisheries Upstream and Downstream of Hungry Horse and Libby Dams, Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Annual Report prepared for U.S. Department of EnergyBonneville Power Administration. Bonneville Power Administration Project No. 2006-008-00 Contract No. 28350. 124 p.Contract No. 28350
    • Sylvester, R. and B. Stephens. 2011. Evaluation of the physical and biological effects of the Northwest Power Conservation Council's Mainstem Amendment upstream and downstream of Libby Dam, Montana. Libby, MT: Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Annual Report prepared for U.S. Department of Energy Bonneville Power Administration. Bonneville Power Administration Project No. 2006-008-00, Contract Nos. 43309 and 48555. 282 p.
    • Sylvester, R., A. Steed, J. Tohtz, and B. Marotz. 2008. Evaluation of the Biological Effects of the Northwest Power Conservation Council's Mainstem Amendment on the Fisheries Upstream and Downstream of Hungry Horse and Libby Dams, Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Annual Report prepared for U.S. Department of EnergyBonneville Power Administration. Bonneville Power Administration Project No. 2006-008-00 Contract No. 28350. 124 p.Contract No. 28350
    • Sylvester, R.M., B.C. Stephens, and J.T. Frye. 2014. Mainstem Columbia Amendments Research at Libby Dam - Evaluation of the Physical and Biological Effects of the Northwest Power Conservation Council's Mainstem Amendment Upstream and Downstream of Libby Dam, Montana. Libby, MT: Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Annual Report prepared for U.S. Department of Energy Bonneville Power Administration. Bonneville Power Administration Project No. 2006-008-00. 461 p.
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Citation for data on this website:
Northern Pike — Esox lucius.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from