Ontario offers the most diverse northern pike fishing on the continent, and 30-pounders (13.6 kg) prowl here. For trophy pike fishing, timing is important. In northern areas, water usually stays cool enough for pike to remain relatively shallow all year. Spring, early summer, and fall are peak periods in southern and central lakes. Esox means a kind of pike and lucius is a Latin name for pike. The family, Esocidae, includes the pikes, the true pickerels and the maskinonge which are characterized by an elongated, somewhat com- pressed body, and a single dorsal fin placed far back near the tail. There are no spines in the fins. The average fisherman may have some difficulty in distinguishing the pike and maskinonge. This is not due to a lack of distinguishing characteristics, but probably to the fact that the differences are the kind that are generally overlooked. The largemouth bass and the smallmouth bass resemble each other more closely than the pike and maskinonge,. yet the pike and maskinonge are more often mistaken for each other .
In the pike, the ground colour is bluish or greenish-grey, with many irregular, whitish or yellowish spots arranged in rows that are more or less longitudinal. There are dark spots of blotches on the dorsal, caudal and anal fins.
Immature pike have light bars which later break up into spots. In the maskinonge, there are numerous square or round black spots of different sizes on the sides of the body, against a greyish- silvery ground colour.
Briefly, in the pike, the background is dark and the markings lighter, while in the maskinonge, the background is light and the markings darker. Although exceptions occur, the pike can be distinguished from the maskinonge by the scaling on the cheeis and opercles (membrane bones located behind the cheeks and covering the gills). In the pike, the cheeks are entirely scaled, while the opercles are scaled above with the lower halves bare or scaleless. In the maskinonge, the upper halves of the cheeks and opercles are scaled but the lower halves are naked.
In the mud or grass pickerel, Esox vermiculatus, the cheeks and opercles are wholly scaled. Because of possible variations in the scaling on the cheeks and opercles, colour and markings are probably the most reliable distinguishing features between the pike and maskinonge.