One of the northern pike's defining characteristics is its great size. Massive individuals may reach five feet and weigh over 70 pounds, although most, especially in heavily fished areas, are much smaller. These maximum proportions lump it with some of the biggest freshwater fish, like its cousin, the muskellunge (which may grow even larger), as well as sturgeon, some catfish, gar and other river and lake giants.
Shape & Fins
The northern pike is shaped roughly like a cigar, with a drawn-out but relatively stocky body. Its single dorsal fin is set well back on the body, close to the rounded tail. Below, the pike has proportionately small, gently-contoured pectoral and pelvic fins, and an anal fin opposing the dorsal.
Coloration & Pattern
The northern pike's body pattern is catered toward concealment: This is, after all, a devoted and effective practitioner of ambush. The brownish green dorsal coloration is laced with light, golden or yellow spots. Such a configuration helps the pike blend in to the murky, shadowed and often heavily vegetated depths it prefers. The muskellunge, superficially very similar in appearance and size to the northern pike, is chiefly distinguished by its vertical barring--it lacks the pike's faint, horizontally planed spots.
The pike's head, like that of the muskellunge, pickerel and other close relatives, is elongated and almost canine in appearance. Its flattened jaws are long but broad, and studded with an impressive array of sharp teeth. The pike employs its formidable mouth to seize and devour a suite of preferred animal prey: The size of the victim, usually fish but also amphibians, invertebrates and occasionally waterfowl and mammals, is relatively proportional to that of the fish.