How the Pike Spawn Works

By: Simon Shadow
Dark underwater shot of a drifting pike fish close to the surface where the bottom of liilypads can be seen.
Kevin Cullimore/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Every species needs to reproduce, right?­­ Pike are no exception. And some of the best fishing can happen during this annual spring ritual. Luckily, all you need is your tackle box, pole and sense of adventure. They'll do all the work, and you can reap the rewards.

During pre-spawn, pike migrate to their favorite spawning waters. Once there, male and female pike swim side by side. As they coast along, the males entice females to release their eggs by nudging the females' abdomens with their tails. The males release clouds of seminal fluid called milt all around the females, increasing chances of fertilization. Pike can lay between 25,000 to 225,000 eggs­ [source: Bucher.] That's a lot of eggs -- and it means a lot of eager spawners for you to catch.


­Eggs attach to vegetation and, depending on water temperature, can take anywhere from two to four weeks to hatch. Females do not care for their young and leave the area soon after depositing their eggs. Young pike feed on their own yolk sacs for their first week and then move onto eating small plants and animals while they develop scales and fins. Growth rates vary depending on location and food sources.

After spawning, females begin feasting. They will eat any fish that fits in their mouths, including their male counterparts [source: Pikezander]. Because they are so hungry, fishing right before and after the spawn will help you to snag the big females. In this article, we'll discuss when and where pike spawn, and techniques for fishing during this exciting time.­


When Pike Spawn

When pike spawn they are more interested in the business at hand than with eati­ng. Pre-spawn, just before and during ice thaw in early spring, male and female pike eat feverishly in preparation. If you want to fish during the pre-spawn, ask local guides and fisherman to point you in the right direction. Be sure to check with your local fishing agency to ensure pre-spawn pike fishing is legal in your state.

Generally, pike become sexually active between their second and third years, but size matters more in determining sexual maturity than age. Bigger females will release more eggs and attract more males [source: Pikezander]. Once they are all grown up, they are ready to join their peers at the spawning grounds.


Spawning times are not set in stone and are determined by water temperature. Spawning takes place when the water's temperature reaches at least 40 degrees F. It can begin anytime starting in late February and continue until May or June, depending on the location. In the northern United States, pike will most likely be spawning in mid-April.

Males move into spawning grounds a couple of weeks before the females and hang around for a few weeks after spawning is complete, averaging approximately a one-month residence. You can hone your pike fishing techniques by practicing on the males. Post-spawn females don't stick around, heading back to their normal waters shortly after dropping their eggs. You can expect females to be actively spawning for roughly 10 days before they go back to their regular lifestyles.

Now you know when the pike spawn is happening, but where are they? Read on to learn about prime pike spawn locations.


Where Pike Spawn

­Because pike are found in various locations across the globe, you would think pike-spawnin­g locations would be radically different in each area. It's not. It seems that no matter where they are, pike have basically the same spawning tastes.

Pike like to spawn in:


  • shallow weed beds
  • sandy and silted areas over gravel or rock
  • in the dead stems of rushes and reeds
  • areas that include adequate vegetation

If they are sea-dwelling pike, they will migrate up rivers to shallow weedy backwaters and pools. Lake-dwellers will migrate to shallow, weedy bays.

Rivers tend to produce large pike due to the amount of food sources, such as shad. When rivers swell during the spring thaw, they produce feeding and breeding grounds favored by the northern pike. The shallow back bays of large lakes are another favorite spawning area because of the natural vegetation and abundant supply of pan fish, bluegill and crappy, which pike find hard to resist [source: Vick]. Pike tend to be one of the easiest fish to catch, so your local fishing agency or well-known fisherman will be able to point you in the right direction.

Now that you know where to locate pike during the spawn, let's talk about what you really want to know -- how to fish for spawning pike.


Pike Fishing During the Spawn

Every fisherman has a favorite rod. Recommended rods for pike fishing include­ the longer European-style rods that have baitcast or spinning reels. Pike can also be caught using a fly rod, but fly fishing isn't recommended as the primary way to reel in a pike if you're unfamiliar with the method. Pike are gnarly fish, and they can bring you right into the water if you don't know what you're doing.

When fishing during the spawn, location helps just as much as equipment. Check with your local fishing agency to locate rivers or lakes that include these types of natural pike baitfish:


  • jumbo perch
  • ciscoes
  • suckers
  • smelt

Pike can be fished during the spawn with live bait or artificial bait. Since most states have regulations or bans regarding live bait, check before you toss any old bait into your favorite water location. Some of the most popular baits and lures include:

  • small game fish
  • alewives
  • minnows
  • dead bait
  • spoons with reflective metal backs
  • spoons with red or black five of diamonds
  • straight-shaft spinners

The best trick to reeling in a giant pike? See red. Literally. Pike are known to love the color red. [source: Vick] Good luck and happy fishing!


Lots More Information

Related­ HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Alaska Outdoor Journal. "Alaska Fishing." (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Barta, Jim. "Northern Pike Strategies." Game & Fish. (Accessed: 11/16/2008)
  • Bucher, Joe. " Pre-Season Muskies & Pike: Understanding Spawning Behavior." The Sportsman's Guide. (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Carlson, Ed. "Stalking Early Spring Trophy Pike." Fishing Minnesota. (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Finnish Game and Fisheries Research. "Pike." Fish Atlas. (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Fish 'n Tips. "Northern Pike & Muskie." (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Kleman, Karl. "Catching Big Pike During the Late Winter--Trophy Northern Pike Fishing." Nodak Outdoors. (accessed 11/12/08)
  • Mead, Tim. "Targeting the Water Wolf." Discover the Outdoors. (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Moen, Clark. "Northern Pike." The Natural Source. (accessed 11/13/08)
  • PikeOnTheFly. "Spawning." (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Pikezander. "Pike." (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Poemhunter. "Pike." Poems by Ted Hughes. (Accessed 11/16/08)
  • Stegemann, Eileen. "The Pike of New York." New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Steiner, Linda. "Pennsylvania Fishes." Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. 2002. (Accessed 11/15/08)
  • Take Me Fishing. "Pike, Northern." Fishopedia. (accessed 11/15/08)
  • Vick, Noel. "Tactics for Big Spring Pike." Game & Fish. (accessed 11/15/08)