|Genus and species:
William Yarrell (1836) in "A History of British Fishes":
PICKERELL. JACK. LUCE. - GEDD. Scotland.
||Linnæus. Bloch, pt. i. pl. 32.|
||Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. iii. p. 424, pl. 74.|
||Cuvier, Règne An. t. ii. p. 282.|
||Don. Brit. Fish. pl. 109.|
||Flem. Brit. An. p. 184, sp. 55.|
Generic Characters. - Head depressed, large, oblong, blunt ; jaws, palatine bones, and vomer, furnished with teeth of various sizes ; body elongated, rounded on the back ; sides compressed, covered with scales ; dorsal fin placed very far back, over the anal fin.
THE PIKE is a well-known inhabitant of the principal rivers and lakes of Europe; and although probably an introduced fish in this country, and for a long time rare, it is now exceedingly common in many of our rivers, and in almost all the lakes and large ornamental waters of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
That Pike were rare formerly, may be inferred from the fact that, in the latter part of the thirteenth century, Edward the First, who condescended to regulate the prices of the different sorts of fish then brought to market, that his subjects might not be left to the mercy of the venders, fixed the value of Pike higher than that of fresh Salmon, and more than ten times greater than that of the best Turbot or Cod. In proof of the estimation in which Pike were held in the reign of Edward the Third, I may again refer to the lines of Chaucer, already quoted at page 336. Pikes are mentioned in an Act of the Sixth year of the reign of Richard the Second, 1382, which relates to the forestalling of fish. Pike were dressed in the year 1466, at the great feast given by George Navil, Archbishop of York. Pike are mentioned in the famous "Boke of St. Albans," in the treatise on the art of fishing with an angle; the first edition of which is said to have been printed at St. Albans in 1481, and again at Westminster, by W. de Worde, in 1496.* Pike were so rare in the reign of Henry the Eighth, that a large one sold for double the price of a house-lamb in February, and a Pickerel, or small Pike, for more than a fat capon.
The Pike is strong, fierce, and active; swims rapidly, and occasionally darts along with the rapidity of lightning. The spawn is deposited among weeds in March or early in April ; and at this season the spawning fish will be found in narrow creeks or ditches that are connected with the larger waters they at other times inhabit.
The Rev. Revett Sheppard has noticed "an annual migration of Pikes which takes place in spring in the Cam, "into which river," he says, "they come in great shoals, doubtless from the fens in the neighbourhood of Ely, where they are bred."
Bloch says the young reach the length of eight to ten inches the first year; twelve to fourteen the second; eighteen to twenty inches the third; and there are proofs on record, that from this last size, Pike, if well supplied with food, will grow at the rate of four pounds' weight a year, for six or seven successive years. Rapid growth requires to be sustained by a corresponding proportion of food, and the Pike has always been remarkable for extraordinary voracity. "Eight Pike, of about five pounds' weight each, consumed nearly eight hundred Gudgeons in three weeks ; and the appetite of one of these Pike," says Mr. Jesse, "was almost insatiable. One morning I threw to him, one after another, five Roach, each about four inches in length : he swallowed four of them, and kept the fifth in his mouth for about a quarter of an hour, when it also disappeared." Digestion in the Pike goes on very rapidly, and they are therefore most expensive fish to maintain. In default of a sufficient quantity of other fishes to satisfy them, moor-hens, ducks, and indeed any animals of small size, whether alive or dead, are constantly consumed: their boldness and voracity are equally proverbial. Dr. Plot relates, that at Lord Gower's canal at Trentham, a Pike seized the head of a swan as she was feeding under water, and gorged so much of it as killed them both : the servants perceiving the swan with its head under water for a longer time than usual, took the boat, and found both swan and Pike dead. Gesner relates that a Pike in the Rhone seized on the lips of a mule that was brought to water, and that the beast drew the fish out before it could disengage itself. Walton was assured by his friend Mr. Segrave, who kept tame otters, that he had known a Pike, in extreme hunger, fight with one of his otters for a Carp that the otter had caught, and was then bringing out of the water ; and, with the old adage, adds, "it is a hard thing to persuade the belly, because it has no ears." A woman in Poland had her foot seized by a Pike as she was washing clothes in a pond; and the same thing is said to have happened at Killingworth pond, near Coventry. The present head-keeper of Richmond Park was once washing his hand over the side of a boat in the great pond in that park, when a Pike made a dart at it, and he had but just time to withdraw it. Mr. Jesse adds, "that a gentleman now residing at Weybridge in Surrey, walking one day by the side of the river Wey, near that town, saw a large Pike in a shallow creek. He immediately pulled off his coat, tucked up his shirt-sleeves, and went into the water to intercept the return of the fish to the river, and to endeavour to throw it out upon the bank by getting his hands under it. During this attempt, the Pike, finding he could not make his escape, seized one of the arms of the gentleman, and lacerated it so much that the marks of the wound are still visible."
Pliny considered the Pike as the longest lived, and likely to attain the largest size, of any fresh-water fish. Pennant refers to one that was ninety years old ; but Gesner relates that, in the year 1497, a Pike was taken at Hailbrun in Suabia, with a brazen ring attached to it, on which were these words in Greek characters : - "I am the fish which was first of all put into this lake by the hands of the Governor of the Universe, Frederick the Second, the 5th of October 1230." This fish was therefore two hundred and sixty--seven years old, and was said to have weighed three hun-dred and fifty pounds. The skeleton, nineteen feet in length, was long preserved at Manheim as a great curiosity in natural history. The lakes of Scotland have produced Pike of fifty-five pounds' weight ; and some of the Irish lakes are said to have afforded Pike of seventy pounds: but it is observed, says honest Isaac Walton, "that such old or very great Pikes have in them more of state than goodness ; the smaller or middle-sized Pikes being, by the most and choicest palates, observed to be the best meat." The flesh of the Pike is of good quality ; and those of the Medway, when feeding on the Smelt, acquire excellent condition, with peculiarly fine flavour. In Lapland, and some other Northern countries of Europe, large quantities of Pike are caught during the spawning season, being then most easily taken, and are dried for future use.
Among the various localities in England remarkable for the quality as well as the quantity of their Pike, Horsea Mere and Heigham Sounds, two large pieces of water in the county of Norfolk, a few miles north of Yarmouth, have been long celebrated. Camden, in his "Britannia," first printed in 1586, says, "Horsey Pike, none like ;" and Horsea Pike still preserve their former good character. I have been favoured, by a gentleman of acknowledged celebrity in field sports, with the returns of four days' Pike--fishing with trimmers - or liggers, as they are provincially called - in March 1834, in the waters just named ; viz. on the 11th, at Heigham Sounds, sixty Pike, the weight alto-gether two hundred and eighty pounds ; on the 13th, at Horsea Mere, eighty-nine Pike, three hundred and seventy--nine pounds ; on the 18th, again at Horsea Mere, forty-nine Pike, two hundred and thirteen pounds ; on the 19th, at Heigham Sounds, fifty-eight Pike, two hundred and sixty--three pounds : together, four days' sport, producing two hundred and fifty-six Pike, weighing altogether eleven hundred and thirty-five pounds. Pike have been killed in Horsea Mere weighing from twenty-eight to thirty-four pounds each. These meres, or broads, as they are called in Norfolk, are of great extent: Horsea Mere and Heigham Sounds, with the waters connected, are calculated to include a surface of six hundred acres. As the mode of fishing for Pike with liggers on these extensive waters is considered to be peculiar, and affords great diversion, I may state that the ligger or trimmer is a long cylindrical float, made of wood or cork, or rushes tied together at each end : to the middle of this float a string is fixed, in length from eight to fifteen feet ; this string is wound round the float except two or three feet, when the trimmer is to be put into the water, and slightly fixed by a notch in the wood or cork, or by putting it between the ends of the rushes. The bait is fixed on the hook, and the hook fastened to the end of the pendent string, and the whole then dropped into the water. By this arrangement, the bait floats at any required depth, which should have some reference to the temperature of the season ; Pike swimming near the surface in fine warm weather, and deeper when it is colder, but generally keeping near its peculiar haunts. When the bait is seized by a Pike, the jerk looses the fastening, and the whole string unwinds ; the wood, cork, or rushes, floating at the top, indicating what has occurred. Floats of wood or cork are generally painted in order to render them more distinctly visible on the water to the fishers who pursue their amusement and the liggers in boats. Floats of rushes are preferred to others, as least calculated to excite suspicion in the fish.
The body of the Pike is elongated, nearly uniform in depth from the head to the commencement of the dorsal fin, then becoming narrower; the surface covered with small scales, the lateral line indistinct : the length of the head compared to the whole length of head, body, and tail, as one to four : the dorsal fin, placed very far back, commences in a vertical line over the vent ; the first ray short ; the second and third increasing in length, but shorter than the fourth ; the length of the base of the fin about equal to the length of the longest of its rays: the dorsal and anal fins terminate on the same plane. From the point of the nose to the origin of the pectoral fin, from thence to the origin of the ventral fin, thence to the commencement of the anal fin, and from the vent to the end of the fleshy portion of the tail, are four nearly equal distances : the pectoral and ventral fins small ; the rays of the anal fin elongated, exceeding the length of the base of the fin; the first three rays shorter than the fourth : caudal rays long and forked. The fin-rays in number are -
D. 19 : P. 14 : V. 10 : A. 17 : C. 19.
The head is elongated, depressed, wide ; gape extensive : the teeth on the vomer small ; those on the palatine bones larger and longer, particularly those on the line of the inner edges ; none on the superior maxillary bones : the lower jaw the longest, with numerous small teeth round the front, the sides with five or six, at a distance from each other, very long and sharp ; the nostrils in a groove at three-fourths of the distance between the point of the nose and the eyes ; the upper surface of the head exhibits various mucous orifices, placed in pairs ; the eyes near the frontal line, and halfway between the point of the nose and the end of the gillcover ; cheeks and upper part of the operculum covered with scales ; preoperculum and operculum smooth and silvery, closing upon a corresponding smooth, circular, silvery disk. The colour of the head and upper part of the back dusky olive brown, becoming lighter and mottled with green and yellow on the sides, passing into silvery white on the belly ; pectoral and ventral fins pale brown ; dorsal, anal, and caudal fins darker brown, mottled with white, yellow, and dark green ; irides yellow.
The Pike of the fisherman is the Lucie of heraldry, from the Latin or old French name.
Three silver Pikes in a red field were the arms of the ancient baronial families of Lucie of Cockermouth and Egremont. The character of Justice Shallow, it is well known, was drawn for Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote in Warwickshire ; but in the following line,
"They may give the dozen white Lucies in their coat,"**
Shakspeare has somewhat amplified the charge ; for the arms of Lucy, according to the heralds, were, gules crusilly or, three lucies or pikes hauriant, argent ; numerous instances of which bearing may be seen in the windows of the hall.
* At the sale of the library of the late Duke of Roxburgh, an imperfect copy of this edition produced 1471.
** Merry Wives of Windsor, Act i. scene 1.
Frank Buckland (1880) in "Natural History of British Fishes":
Local names: Jack Luce, Gedd, Pickeral, Haked, Lul, Pod. Welsh: Penhwyad. French: Le Brochet. German: Der Hecht, Hak, Schnock, Wasserwolf. Dutch: Greepvisch, Snoek. Norwegian: Gedde. Italian: Luzzio, Lucio, and Brochette. Danish: Gjedde. Swedish: Gadda, Gadda Snipa.
THE best name of all the above applied to the Pike is the Waterwolf.
From the days of Gesner downwards, more lies -- to put it in very plain language -- have been told about the pike than any other fish in the world ; and the greater the improbability of the story, the more particularly is it sure to be quoted. Among these stories there can be no greater fabrication than that of the pike that is recorded to have lived two hundred and sixty odd years. An account of this precious fish can be found in almost every angling book published. We are now in 1880, and supposing the fish to have been caught in this year, it follows he must have been put into the lake in 1630, the sixth year of the reign of Charles I. This story might have done very well years ago, but will not do now.
I now proceed to put on record the largest pike that has come under my own personal knowledge.
In Oct, 1874, His Royal Highness Prince Christian was kind enough to send up Keene, the head fisherman of Windsor Park, with the most splendid pike I ever beheld. Having understood that Rapley Lake near Bagshot Park, which belongs to the Royal domain, had not been dragged for upwards of fifty years, Mr. Keene put in the nets in order to report to the Prince what stock of fish he had there. The net brought out a number of carp, tench, &c. Keene thought from the jump of something in the net that he had caught an unusually large fish. When the net shoaled, he was delighted to find a monster pike in it ; the fish ran between his legs, and nearly upset him. He took his prize at once to Cumberland Lodge to the Prince, who was good enough to send it on to me immediately. This magnificent fish weighed no less than thirty-five pounds; length 3ft.10½in., girth 2ft. I never saw a fish in such perfect condition before. The eye was exceedingly beautiful, the head shone like smoked mother-o’-pearl, every scale was perfect, and fins as red as a perch ; four black bars extended from some distance from the tail upwards, giving the fish a zebra-like appearance. Mr. Keene asked me what I thought the age of the fish. I guessed offhand from twelve to fifteen years ; and it really appears I was not far wrong, for about twelve years before, Sir James Clark’s butler put six or eight jack weighing about a pound a half each into Rapley Lake.
This fish was a female, and contained over forty-three thousand eggs.
I regretted much that this freshwater shark was not kept alive, and sent either to Westminster or Brighton Aquarium.
I made a cast of this fish, which was afterwards painted by Mr. Searle, and exhibited at the Berlin Fishery Exhibition of 1880.
In February, 1879, I was favoured by receiving from Col. W. G. Colville, Clarence House, St. James's, a magnificent pike which H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh had himself caught at Eastwell, his country seat, near Ashford. This pike was a very handsome female ; she weighed twenty-four pounds, and measured more than 3ft. Mr. Searle and myself cast the fish, and Mr. Searle afterwards painted it. I had the honour of presenting it to the Duke, and it is now fixed in a prominent position in the entrance hall of Clarence House. This pike, I found, contained a great many eggs ; these were in two lobes side by side like the hard row of the herring. The eggs were the size of turnip seed ; they weighed altogether 2lbs. 4oz.
Mr. Searle, my secretary, weighed several grains, counted them, and averaged them, and thus got at the contents of the whole mass, which numbered no less than 224,640 eggs.
When we consider this enormous number of eggs in one fish, it seems wonderful to imagine what becomes of them all. The number of eggs in this one fish was equal nearly three times the population of Brighton ; nine times the population of Windsor; or nearly half the population of Liverpool. Jacks’ eggs no doubt afford food for numerous water insects, as well as to roach and fishes of the carp tribe, which, I know from experience, are great eaters of eggs. It is quite as well for the economy of the fish world in the Duke’s lake that this large pike should be destroyed, as without doubt this monster kept all the fish in the pond in a state of terror.
The most successful angler for pike in modern times is Mr. A. Jardine. In November, 1879, Mr. Jardine caught in fair angling, by means of a dace, snap-tackle, and a cane rod, a grand pike, which, after having been out of the water twelve hours, scaled 34¾lbs., so that it was a good 35lbs. fish. It measured 46½ in. in length. This fish was taken to Mr. Rolfe, and its portrait was put on canvas to form the centrepiece of the picture which was presented to the Right Hon. Anthony Mundella, in 1880, in acknowledgment of his great public service in getting the Freshwater Fisheries Act through Parliament.
In February, 1877, Mr. Jardine was fortunate enough to take with rod and line another pike weighing thirty-six pounds, measuring 46in. in length, and 25in. in girth. Immediately the fish was captured Mr. Jardine brought her up on the top of a four-wheel cab, and while Mr. Searle and I were casting the fish Mr. Jardine gave us the following most interesting account of its capture, which I took down at the time:
For some days previously to Mr. Jardine’s arrival the water where the pike lived had been very thick and muddy ; in fact, like pea-soup. During this state of things the pike had been short of food. With the clean water arrived Mr. Jardine, who happened to find my lady in the middle of her dinner. Previously to taking Mr. Jardine’s baits she had swallowed no less than fourteen roach and one perch, which were all, more or less, in a state of semi-digestion. When Mr. Jardine first felt the tug upon his line, he fancied that he had hooked only a small fish, as the fish came along towards him without much pulling. When, however, the fish was struck smartly, she began to show fight -- first of all tried to make a bolt of it, and then rushed violently through the water, with open mouth, towards Jardine, the tightened line still in her jaws.
Coming along the side of the boat, she “grinned a ghastly grim” and two pairs of eyes met -- the man’s and the fish’s -- with dire defiance of each other. The pike then shook her head severely, after the manner of a dog worrying a rat; all in vain, the hooks were too firmly fastened into her tongue, and they could not be shaken out. Off went the pike again for another waltz round the pool, and then came a deal of manoeuvring on the part of the fisherman. The skiff -- not a flat-bottomed boat -- was anchored in deep water by a rope and chain, and Jardine’s fear was that the fish would manage to twist the line round the rope, in which case the line would, in all probability, give way. He therefore tried all he could to get up the anchor. Kneeling on one knee, he pulled hard at the anchor-rope, while he played the pike with the other hand; but no, the anchor would not come up, so he devoted his entire attention to the fish. After dancing a pas de deux with his partner for a long time, the fish began to give way, and to roll herself languidly about several times. Jardine brought her near the side of the boat, and several times did she again plunge into the depths below, making great swirls with her tail.
“Illam ter fluctus ibidem
Torquet agens circum, et rapido vorat œquore vortex.”
Still, the difficulty remained how to get the fish into the boat. Piscator, however, was ready for any emergency -- when is he not? Slipping the gaff, without the fish seeing it, gently into the water, with a swift jerk he chucked her under the chin. Having felt the hold was firm, he dropped his rod, and put the finger of his other hand into the pike’s eyes. Another moment, and the pike was in the skiff. Then came the tug of war between man and fish. The pike, feeling for the first time herself out of water, began to lash about most furiously. Jardine stopped this little game with a slight blow on the head, which had only a slight effect in felling the fish.
The fish, however, was determined to do as much mischief as she could. Lashing her tail about like a crocodile, she first upset the large bait-can, which contained the live baits, so that there was a merry morris dance in the boat, the big fish surrounded by the little ones. She then made a charge upon Jardine’s commissariat. Smash went the bottle of sherry, then a tumbler, then the sandwiches and a tobacco-box.
Affairs were becoming very serious, for the pike had rolled up all the loose lines; Jardine then tried to get her head into a sack. No sooner was her head into the sack than it popped out again, the fish seeming to be aware that if Mr. Jardine “gave her the sack” it was all up with her, as is the case with the Sultan’s wives, who, when disobedient, are put in a sack and tumbled into the sea. This, I believe, is the origin of the term, “giving the sack.”
At last Jardine managed to get towards shore, when the keeper at last -- gone to his dinner, of course -- came to his assistance. The two of them contrived to bag the pike effectually, and they carried her a long way inshore before they gave her the final coup-de-grace.
The Avon, Christchurch, Hampshire, is not only celebrated for large salmon, but also for large pike. My friend Mr. Payne, of Avon Tyrrell, Hants, tells me that he formerly possessed outlines of a pike cut out in wood which weighed 37½lbs. He has also a peculiarly short pike caught by himself, which weighed 32lbs.
Lord Normington, who lives on. the banks of this river, was kind enough to show me a cast of a pike which had attempted to swallow a salmon. In May, 1880, I received a call duck from Lord Nelson, of Trafalgar House, Downton, which had been attacked by a pike and was so much lacerated that it died of its wounds. This must have been a very big pike. He is not caught yet. Pike will also eat young ducks, and I understand that in the Stour, which joins the Avon at Christchurch, the pike make considerable inroads into Lord Normington’s young wild ducks. They will also take water rats.
In October, 1869, my friend Mr. George Rooper sent me a very fine pike, which he caught when spinning in a gale of wind (best time for pike-fishing) in Loch Awe. This grand game fish gave splendid sport. When she arrived at Albany Street purposely to have her likeness taken in plaster, we found that she weighed 28lbs., and measured 3 feet 7 inches in length. She contained 21oz. of roe, the number of eggs being 292,320.
On April 2, 1870, I received a pike which weighed 32lbs., and measured 3 feet 8 inches; it was caught with rod and line in the Broads of Norfolk. Upon opening the abdomen, the roe was seen almost filling the whole of the cavity; it weighed 5lbs., and contained no less than 595,200 eggs. This fish I cast, and afterwards presented it to the Royal College of Surgeons, where the skeleton is now placed in the museum.
The lake at Blenheim Park was made in Queen Anne’s time, when the palace was built by Bamburgh. This architect, or his landscape gardener, blocked up a stream and made a splendid lake ; but although this lake was left for many years without being touched, yet when it was properly netted for the Duke of Marlborough by a professional fisherman from Oxford, no very large pike were found in it. The Duke kindly sent me on the 12th May, 1872, a pike weighing 24½lbs. This fish did not give one the idea of being of great antiquity; in fact, he could not have been very old.
Two cases of a curious accident to pike have occurred of late years. In April, 1870, Mr. Cramp sent me from Killin, a well known salmon rod-fishing station at the head of Loch Tay, two pike fastened firmly together by the impaction of the head of one within the mouth and jaws of the other. Mr. Cramp writes: “These two pike which weighed 19lbs. the two, are exactly in the same position as when gaffed by my boatman on Loch Tay. We saw a considerable movement on the surface of the water, and upon our approaching to discover the cause, the fish appeared to be fighting, and merely sank a short distance below the surface. The gaff penetrated both their heads. You will observe that the head of the one fish (weighing, perhaps, 9lb.) is tightly inserted up to the termination of its gill, and part of the first lower fin, in the mouth and throat of the larger one.
A cast of this curious case of Pike v Pike is now in my Fish Museum.
A second case of pike swallowing a pike occurred in April, 1880, when Dr. Burton, of Kelso, sent me a drawing with the following account:
“Two pike, the larger 3¼lbs., the lesser 2¼lbs., were this day taken by the hand by a lad out of the Tweed at Kelso, the one nearly half swallowed by the other. They were both alive, and when with difficulty separated and put into a water-tub, the larger made two attempts again to gorge his neighbour. The lad who took ‘em wondered to see ‘a muckle fish wi’ twa tails.’ “
The cause of this curious accident in both cases was caused probably that both fish charged simultaneously at a roach or other small bait. The roach slipped out of the way, and the pike having got up stream, had too much way on them to avoid a collision; the head of the smallest becoming thus impacted in the open mouth of the larger one.
I strongly advise my readers to make a preparation of a pike’s head. This is very easily done by cutting it off, steeping it in spirits of wine or diluted carbolic acid, then hanging it up to dry, the mouth being blocked open with a stick. It will then be seen that there are three plates of teeth in the back of the upper jaw, all of which are as sharp-pointed as needles, and are set
directly backwards. The lower jaw is also armed with a formidable set of lancet pointed teeth, so that it is almost impossible for any object once impacted in a pike’s mouth ever to get back again.
When in the 2nd Life Guards, my much-lamented friend the late Colonel Martyn took the lease of Ruislip Reservoir, near Uxbridge; many happy days have I spent there fishing for pike from a punt. Colonel Martyn was particularly fond of what he called the “calves’-tail” bait for pike, a description of which I have never before published.
Procure the tip of the tail of a brown calf ; remove the bone and substitute a slip of cork ; make a head with a champagne cork ; put into it boot buttons for eyes; attach a piece of leather boot-lace for a tail, and dress with ordinary hooks. These big lake pike, who are very artful fellows, will not be up to this calves’-tail bait -- they will take it for a swimming water-rat, and the chances are that they will snap at it, especially on a windy day.
Alwyne Wheeler (1969) in "The Fishes of the British Isles and North West Europe":
Esox lucius Linnaeus, 1758
NAMES Fr. Brochet; Du. Snoek; Ge. Hecht; Da. Gedde; Sw. Gädda.
IDENTIFICATION The pike is practically the only freshwater fish which can be safely identified from sight records. Its elongate head and body, rearward-placed fins and dappled coloration make it unmistakable. The head is pointed, the snout forming almost a duck-bill shape, the lower jaw is longer than the upper and the latter extends backwards to the front of the eye. The teeth are large, particularly in the sides of the lower jaw and the palate. Conspicuous pores are present on the underside of the head, below the eye and in the interorbital region. The pectoral fins are sited low on the body, and the pelvics are intermediate between them and the anal fin. The anal fin originates below the front of the dorsal fin, and both dorsal and anal fins are close to the tail fin. The body and the sides of the head are densely covered with large stales; the lateral line is prominent, with isolated pores on the lower side.
Colour is variable; usually a background of greeny brown, the sides spotted and barred light golden; the young are more densely marked than adults. It grows to an average length of between 16 and 40 in (41-102 cm) and a weight of 30 lb (14 kg) or more. The British record fish (1945) weighed 47 lb 11 oz (21.62 kg).
D. 19-23; A. 16-21; lateral line 110-30.
BIOLOGY The pike is wholly carnivorous, and once it is past a length of 8 in (20 cm) eats almost entirely fish. Young pike haunt the weedy shallows of rivers, streams and lakes, and can often be caught in a hand net. Their food in their first year is almost entirely invertebrate, in the first months consisting mainly of copepods (Cyclops), Cladocera (Bosmina) and chironomid larvae. Later they eat Asellus (the water slater), Gammarus and larger aquatic insect larvae, and young fish (perch fry, minnows and sticklebacks). Once the pike reaches a length of 8 in (20 cm), fish are of great importance in its diet, but the species it most preys on vary with availability. In Windermere, where perch abound, they are a primary food, but in winter, when charr enter shallow water to spawn, they are eaten in numbers. In lowland streams rudd, roach, gudgeon, bream, perch, eels and pike are eaten, while in western hill streams the prime food source is trout; salmon are also taken. Vertebrates other than fish, such as water birds, mammals and amphibians (frogs and newts) are also eaten, but except frogs and newts only rarely. In general, there is no fish in fresh water which will not from time to time appear in the diet of the pike. A substantial proportion, often as much as half, of pike examined for food remains are empty, and evidence shows that pike feed less actively during winter and practically fast whilst spawning. Despite this it is estimated that the daily food intake up to two years of age is from 3-5 per cent of the body weight, and also that the annual average consumption of a 4½ lb (2 kg) pike is 47 lb (21 kg), which could make a considerable difference to the success of any fishery.
The normal feeding behaviour of the pike is to lie concealed amongst weeds, or close to some obstruction in the water, until a passing fish comes close enough to be seized. Its speed over a short distance has been measured at nearly 9 ft (2.7 m) per second.
The growth rate varies greatly with locality. Pike live up to fifteen years, and no doubt occasionally longer. Males do not normally live as long or grow as large as the females, and the largest pike are nearly all females. The growth rate also varies with the average annual temperature, for in Spain cultivated pike kept in good conditions grow to 18 in (45 cm) in their first year, while those in northern England take four years to attain this length. The female pike grows faster than the male, although only marginally so at first. At the end of their first winter males measure 2¾ in (7.2 cm), females 3¼ in (8.2 cm); after their second winter they reach 7¼ in (18.4 cm) and 7¾ in (19.3 cm) respectively, and after their third 11½ in (29.1 cm) and 12¼ in (31.1 cm) respectively.
Both sexes mature in their second or third years, the males usually being the more precocious. Spawning occurs from February to April among reeds in shallow areas, or around the sedges of flooded marshes. Males enter these spawning areas in advance, usually following the spring-time warming up of the water, and these sites are usually in full sunlight. Spawning takes place in daylight and the spawn is shed more or less indiscriminately over the vegetation at the site. Often one female is accompanied by two or these males, and the spawning act is repeated several times, but the males tend to adopt threatening postures, towards one another.
The pike is widespread in the British Isles and is relatively common in suitable waters. On the continent of Europe it is also widespread, but in France, and locally elsewhere, it has become rather rare as a result of overfishing.
Its large size, its ready availability and the fact that its flesh is palatable (an unusual feature in non-salmonid freshwater fishes) make the pike a favoured sport fish. A number of techniques are used to take pike, live baiting and spinning with an artificial lure being but two. Because of their predatory habits it is desirable to control the numbers of large pike in a fishery, but in small numbers they probably do little harm (except in wholly game fish waters) and they can make a contribution to the fish available for angling.
Introduced to Spain (twentieth century), to Ireland much earlier; found naturally in N. America.