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Pikes and Pickerel

(family Esocidae)

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Pikes and pickerels comprise 5 species in North America. All possess sharp teeth, elongated body semi-compressed and a flattened snout. The dorsal and anal fins are located opposite each other far back on the body, and the caudal fin is forked.

 

Muskellunge

Esox Masquinongy

 

Growing to 6 feet and weighing 100 lbs this fish is found in lakes, reservoirs with thick vegetation, slow meandering rivers and streams with abundant plant cover. Valued as a prize by anglers this voracious fish feeds primarily on fishes, but will eat any animal it can swallow, such as small ducks and amphibians. The species has been cross bred with the Northern pike producing a hybrid called the Tiger Muskellunge, a much more robust species. They prefer temperature between 67░ F to 72░ F, though they have been known to tolerate up to 80░ F. Muskellunge do not thrive in same populations with Northern Pike. Northern Pike hatch earlier and make a meal of the muskellunge fry. Food requirements are similar to the Northern Pike. The primary diet though is fish.

 

Northern Pike

Esox lucius

 

Growing to just a little over 4 feet and weighing about 46 lbs this fish is like the preceding is found in lakes, reservoirs, and large streams with little current and abundant vegetation. The species is the most wide-spread freshwater fish in the world. Once considered a commercial fish it is mostly now a sports fish with little economic value. In California, a few years ago Northern Pike was found in a lake and the regulatory agency there used rotenone (a chemical that attacks the gills of fish) to poison the fish. Instead the chemical was allegedly mishandled and it spilled 5 miles down a creek killing all the native fishes except the pike which was later found still inhabiting the lake. Their diet consists of frogs, crayfish, mice, muskrats, and ducklings. The fish prefers large items to fill its stomach rather than small ones.

 

Chain Pickerel

Esox niger

 

Growing to 3 feet, weighing a little over 9 pounds, these fish are found in clean, clear lakes, ponds, swamps, reservoirs, and pools of streams with vegetation. These are considered an important sports fish in the northeastern United States. However, the fish was erroneously spread by the regulatory agency when they misidentified this species for Northern Pike. This mistake in identification caused widespread damage to native populations since this species reproduces rapidly. On other smaller species is called the red-finned pickerel. They prefer water temperature of 75░ F to 80░ F. Their diet consists of insects, frogs, mice, crayfish, and a wide variety of other foods. They have been known to hybridize with red-finned and northern pike.The species are not suitable for the home aquarium. However, there are some exceptions as noted above. They are constant feeders and even one pike would require quite a few "live" fish to keep it from dying of malnutrition. Many states now prohibit its importation or transplantation because it is so prolific. Historically, this species has inspired many "fish stories" including biting humans that were swimming or small dogs being eaten. Other stories abound regarding the fishes size, one famous account having to do with several parts of a muskellunge being sewed together to create one giant size "monster" fish. However, many of the other stories are true.

 

The fish uses its ability to contort its body into a "Z" and spring forward at amazing speed to attack an unsuspecting prey. They are egg scatters in shallow areas and then abandon them. At about three to four weeks after hatching, they begin to cannibalize other fry. Because of the large size of their mouths, they are able to ingest fishes twice their size. It is a well known fact that fishermen use steel leaders when fishing for these fish since monofilament is easily cut by the fishes sharp teeth. Even 20-30 lb monofilament!

 

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