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Ontario Northern Pike Biology
Habitat: Observations on the preferred habitat of the pike generally agree that in lake environments they prefer the weedy bays, estuaries and shoals as a spring and summer habitat. In these extensive littoral areas, the vegetation may consist of a combination of submerged and emergent types, or submerged types alone, in water of moderately high fertility.
Movements: Does the pike restrict its wanderings to the immediate neighborhood, leading a sedentary life and never seen in the company except during the spawning period? Anglers contend that pike is continual wanderers, moving restlessly from point to point in the lake. Carbine and Applegate contend that this may be true of small lakes with more or less uniform habitat conditions but, in a large lake with a dispersed suitable summer range, there is evidence of the sedentary nature of certain groups of pike during the summer months. There was additional evidence to show that a number of pikes returned each year to the same area to spawn. Discussing certain patterns of movement exhibited by pike, Carbine and Applegate concluded that pike occupies more or less well-defined summer habitats (weed beds), that they annually utilize suitable, conveniently located spawning areas, and return after each spawning run to the same summer haunts. Deviations from this pattern were not sufficient to invalidate these observations. Recaptures of spawning migrants tagged at the Muskegon River showed that pike, using river marshes for spawning, were farther ranging in their spring and summer habits.
Spawning: Under normal conditions, the pike reaches sexual maturity in its third year of life. As the ice melts along the shores, the pike begins to seek their spawning grounds, the shallow, marshy areas of lakes and streams. If freshets occur at this time, the pike will move into the flooded, grassy margins of lakes, flooded pastures, and even drainage ditches. The larger females attract one or more males and, as they vibrate through the shallows (four to 18 inches deep), eggs are broadcast at random over the vegetation and fertilized by the sperm. Female pike has a prolific reproductive potential, and the number of eggs deposited is a function of the size of the fish. It has been reported that a six-pound female yielded 136,500 eggs, while a thirty-two pound fish yielded 595,200. In a study of Minnesota fishes, it was found that 13 inches to 15inch female pike produces an average of 7,500 eggs and 25- to 28-inch females, 63,000 eggs. In a study in Michigan, it was found females to average 32,200 eggs. The eggs hatch in about two weeks. There are many hazards to successful spawning. Fluctuating water levels can leave the eggs high and dry; cold weather may kill the eggs and delay development of minute crustaceans, the main diet of pike fry; eggs and fry are subject to disease, predation by aquatic insects and by other fish, principally yellow perch, and by cannibalism. In this hostile environment, the loss of eggs, fry and fingerlings within a few months, is tremendous. This loss is not without compensation because it helps to keep the population in balance with the food supply.
Food and Growth: The pike has been described as a mere ma- chine for the assimilation of enormous quantities of organisms; they put on weight at the rate of a pound a year, at least. Pike fry hug the bottom for several days after birth. They remain in shallow water for several weeks and their first food is tiny water fleas and other small aquatic organisms. They soon turn to a fish diet, for example, sucker fry hatched in the area about the same time. As noted previously, they are cannibalistic; a pike 11/4 inches in length will attack a pike one inch in length. Perch, shiners and young pan fishes appear to make up a considerable portion of the diet of large pike. Their role as a predator helps to control panfish populations which have a tendency to become over- abundant and stunted. As a rule, lakes with large pike have normally growing pan fish. Although the pike is principally piscivorous, an occasional muskrat, duckling or frog does not escape its powerful jaws. Rawson found that female fish live much longer than males, and that practically all pike above 29 inches in length in Lake Waskesiu, Saskatchewan, were females.