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Exploring Minnesota Fish: Northern Pike

The Northern Pike, a carnivorous fish species belonging to the genus Esox, is typically found in the brackish and fresh waters of the Northern Hemisphere.

Known for their sharp teeth and strong hunting instincts, these fish are referred to as pike in Great Britain, Ireland, Eastern Europe, Canada, and the United States. Their powerful fins, situated towards their back end, grant them explosive strength from a standstill, making them ideal ambush predators near underwater vegetation and structures.

Keep reading to learn all about the Northern Pike and where you can find this species here in Minnesota!

northern pike

The Northern Pike: A Guide for Anglers


The Northern Pike (Esox lucius) is a carnivorous fish with an elongated, torpedo-shaped body and a snout full of sharp teeth. Their scales have a dark greenish-brown coloration, with light-colored spots on their sides.

They are ambush predators and utilize their fin placement, which is loaded towards their back end, to provide them with explosive power when hunting near and in underwater cover and structures. They can reach a maximum length of 60 inches and a maximum weight of about 60 pounds.


This species typically inhabits brackish and freshwater environments, including lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Northern Pike prefer areas with abundant aquatic vegetation and submerged structures to aid in their ambush hunting strategy.


This species is found in the Northern Hemisphere and have a holarctic distribution. They are native to parts of Europe, North America, and some parts of Asia. In Great Britain, Ireland, and most of Eastern Europe, Canada, and the United States, they are simply known as “pike.”

Fishing and Angling for Northern Pike


Northern Pike are known for their aggressive behavior and voracious appetite, making them a popular target for anglers.

There are several popular techniques for fishing this species, including casting and trolling with artificial lures, still-fishing using live bait, and, during colder months, ice fishing. Casting and trolling with lures that resemble fish, such as spoons, spinners, and crankbaits, can be especially effective when fishing in open water. For ice fishing, using live bait like minnows or small fish can help draw in hungry pike lurking beneath the ice.

One of the most effective techniques for catching Northern Pike is to focus on shallower, weedy areas like bays and flats where they hunt prey fish amidst aquatic vegetation. During the post-spawn period of late spring to early summer, larger females can be found in shallow waters and are prime targets for anglers.


When fishing for Northern Pike, it is crucial to have the right tackle. A medium-heavy or heavy-action rod is recommended, as these fish are known for their strong and powerful strikes. Moreover, using a quality net can help ensure a successful catch when dealing with larger pike. Since these fish have sharp teeth, incorporating a steel leader in the line setup is essential to prevent them from biting through the line.

Baits and Lures

The best bait for catching Northern Pike is typically fish, as they primarily feed on smaller fish. Popular bait options include minnows, shiners, and small fish like perch. Artificial lures that resemble fish can also be effective when targeting Northern Pike. Some of the most popular options include:

  • Spoons: Historically successful for catching Northern Pike, spoons such as the Eppinger Daredevle can be a valuable addition to any tackle box.
  • Spinnerbaits: These lures imitate the motion of smaller prey fish and are an effective choice for pike fishing. Spinnerbaits with flashy blades or bright colors can attract pike in murky or heavily vegetated waters.
  • Soft Plastic Swimbaits: Designed to emulate the appearance and swimming action of prey fish, soft plastic swimbaits can provoke strikes from pike lurking in weed beds or other underwater structures.
  • Crankbaits: With their tight wiggling action and realistic appearance, crankbaits are an excellent option for mimicking injured prey fish and enticing pike to strike.

Tips for Success

To increase the chances of catching a trophy Northern Pike, keep these tips in mind:

  • Time of Year: Target post-spawn periods in late spring and early summer when larger females are more active and feeding in shallow waters.
  • Location: Focus on shallower, weedy areas where pike can be found hunting for prey.
  • Adjust to Conditions: Adapt the choice of lure, color, or retrieve speed based on water clarity, temperature, and local vegetation to maximize success in the specific fishing area.
northern pike

Conservation and Management Efforts


Northern Pike face several threats that impact their populations and ecosystems. Overexploitation and illegal fishing practices are among the major concerns. Habitat loss due to human activities, such as agricultural expansion and urbanization, is another critical issue affecting the species. Predation by invasive species and disease transmission are additional threats challenging the survival and biodiversity of these fish.


Several regulations have been implemented to protect the Northern Pike populations. For instance, Minnesota has developed fishing regulations such as slot limits, catch and release policies, and seasonal fishing restrictions. These measures aim to maintain sustainable harvest levels and control pike sizes in lakes with large populations. Additionally, constant monitoring and scientific research initiatives help guide the management and conservation of Northern Pike stocks in the region.

Habitat Restoration

Habitat restoration plays a key role in conserving and managing the population. Efforts in this area include protecting and restoring wetlands, which serve as vital spawning and nursery habitats for the species. Restoration projects enhance the connectivity of water bodies, which helps with optimal water quality and supports the growth and recruitment dynamics of young Northern Pike. Ensuring proper spawning grounds and environmental conditions contributes to the overall population health of the species and maintains the stability of the aquatic ecosystems they inhabit.

Species Management

While the conservation of this species is important, the management of these fish is equally necessary. Northern Pike can be problematic due to their aggressive predatory behavior and tendency to overpopulate in some areas. This can lead to imbalances in the food chain as they deplete local populations of smaller fish, crustaceans, and other prey. Furthermore, invasive populations of Northern Pike can disrupt local ecosystems and negatively impact native fish species.

In order for anglers to enjoy the thrill of catching Northern Pike, both the conservation and management of this species is essential.

northern pike

Northern Pike In Minnesota

Distribution of Northern Pike across different regions of Minnesota

Northern pike is a voracious predator found in nearly every Minnesota lake and river. This fish species is not only easy to catch but also provides a thrilling experience to anglers with their powerful runs that strip line from the reel.

In Northwestern Minnesota, you can find Northern pike in the lakes and rivers of this region. Some popular spots here are the well-known Red Lake, Rainy Lake, and Lake of the Woods. These bodies of water host abundant populations of Northern pike and promise a rewarding fishing experience.

Northeastern Minnesota is another region where you can come across northern Pike. These fish can be found in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is made up of interconnected lakes and rivers. Other lakes in this region, such as Saganaga Lake and Vermilion Lake, also have thriving populations of Northern Pike.

The Central Minnesota region boasts a wide variety of excellent pike fishing spots. One of the most notable lakes here is Lake Minnetonka. It is considered to be one of the best fishing lakes in North America and offers exceptional opportunities for catching the Northern Pike.

Southern Minnesota is also home to Northern Pike populations, albeit being lesser in numbers compared to the other regions. They can still be found in lakes like Lake Pepin and numerous rivers, such as the St. Croix River.

Northern Pike can be found distributed throughout all regions of Minnesota, in various lakes and rivers. Anglers looking to catch this exciting fish should look forward to a pleasurable fishing experience across the beautiful state of Minnesota.

northern pike

Wrapping Up the Northern Pike

Sporting a snout full of razor-like teeth, the Northern Pike is a serious piscivore that preys on other fish. They are deemed a cool water species and widely sought after by recreational anglers for the delicious taste of their flaky, white flesh.

Adapting well to seasonal freshwater temperature patterns, understanding the techniques, gear, and flies designed for targeting Northern pike can be the key to a successful catch.

Whether you’re an old pro at catching Northern Pike or looking for a new challenge, it’s time to plan that fishing trip!

To learn more about the other fish species you can find here in Minnesota, check out our Fishing in Minnesota page!