Fast, efficient and streamlined, the pike cannot be mistaken for any other fish. Most of its characteristics are adaptations to its predatory lifestyle. Camouflage colouring, eyesight, body form and fin arrangement all contribute to the pike’s success as a hunter.
With their camouflage and short-lived bursts of speed, pike prefer to ambush their prey rather than chase it. They lurk, hidden in the weeds, waiting for the quick sprint – followed by feeding.
The jaw is extremely flexible, allowing large meals to be swallowed whole; small (jack) pike will often demonstrate this by gobbling up their siblings. Prey is usually taken from the side and then manoeuvred round to be swallowed head first.
When water conditions prevent the pike’s highly developed eyesight from being effective, it can fall back on its efficient sense of smell. It also has a highly sophisticated tracking system rather like radar.
Favourite food is fish of between a tenth to a fifth of the pike’s body weight, but it can swallow much larger ones, as well as small mammals, frogs and water birds. However, pike usually eat only about two and a half times their own body weight in a year. Key feeding seasons are dictated mainly by the breeding cycle and water temperature. Sixty per cent of a mature pike’s yearly food intake is consumed in the two months following spawning (round about March and April). Females also feed heavily in October when their ovaries are beginning to develop, and there is a smaller peak in feeding just before spawning in January and February. Little is eaten over the summer months as pike tend to be lethargic at higher water temperatures. This means fishing is often poor in summer.
Much of the year pike spend in the deeper water, usually between 3-10m (10-33ft), but in spring, from March onwards, they move into the shallows to spawn. Females usually have up to 20,000 eggs per pound of body weight, so large specimens may be carrying more than 500,000 eggs each spring. The female pike is much the larger of the sexes weighing up to 40 lb (18kg) or more; males rarely top 12 lb (5.5kg).
After spawning, the pike feeds heavily to regain its strength. The usual victims are other fish, such as perch and roach, using the shallows to spawn. Very young pike eat water fleas and other tiny aquatic life but after only a few weeks they move on to members of their own species and other fry.