Esox lucius (Northern pike)

Animal Fish
Family: Escocidae
Classification: Prohibited

The northern pike is a non-native, invasive predator fish species that has become established in Box Canyon Dam Reservoir on the Pend Oreille River in northeast Washington where it is considered a serious threat to trout and other fish species.

Its voracious appetite for other fish and prolific spawning is a potential for great ecological and economic damage, not just in northeast Washington but throughout the region. The Pend Oreille River is a tributary of the Columbia River, where even salmon and steelhead could be affected by northern pike moving downstream.

Surveys conducted between 2004 and 2011 documented both a rapid increase in the number of northern pike in Box Canyon Reservoir and a decline in abundance of forage species such as native minnows and non-native sunfish, largemouth bass, and yellow perch. 

Click on map to enlarge
Current distribution of northern pike in Washington State.
The northern-most red line represents the Pend Oreille River (Box Canyon and Boundary Reservoirs) and the Columbia River from the Canadian border to just north of Kettle Falls. The southern-most red line represents the Spokane River and Lake Spokane (aka Long Lake). The northern and southern red circles represent Newman Lake and Liberty Lake, respectively, in Spokane County. Further movement downstream in the Columbia River and illegal movement by “bucket biologists” is a grave concern of fisheries management agencies throughout the Northwest.

In April 2011 public meetings were conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Kalispel Tribe Natural Resources Department (KNRD)  to solicit feedback on these findings. 

In February 2012 public meetings were held to relay a multi-year approach for reducing northern pike numbers in Box Canyon Reservoir by 87 percent.  That target population reduction level was determined necessary based on pike abundance measured in the 2010 - 2011 WDFW Spring Pike Index Netting (SPIN) surveys

The reduction plan uses three methods: 1) angler harvest, 2) fishing derbies, and 3) removal using pike-specific gill nets.  The 2012 fishing derbies removed 233 pike and 2012 gill-nettingefforts removed 5,808 pike. The 87 percent reduction target, based on the 13.2 pike per net results of the 2011 SPIN survey, was not quite met, as revealed in the 2012 WDFW Spring Pike Index Netting (SPIN) survey, which measured 2.3  pike per net rather than the 1.7 pike per net goal.

In 2013, pike reduction efforts continue, starting with gill netting from ice-out in early March through April.  Measurement of the success of that effort will be made in May with another SPIN survey; if pike abundance is higher than the target, gill netting will continue through June.  Another fishing derby will also be conducted in 2013 (date yet to be determined.)

WDFW encourages anglers to harvest northern pike, which are classified as a prohibited species so pike caught must be dead before removing them from the vicinity of the waterway. There is no daily nor possession limit, and no minimum size. Small or skinny pike, sometimes stunted by overpopulation, will still reproduce and cause problems. 

Removing live northern pike from one waterway and releasing them in another is illegal. It is also how the Pend Oreille River northern pike population began, with illegal releases in the Flathead, Bitterroot and Clark Fork river systems in Montana, where they migrated downstream into Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille and into Washington.

Although the largest population of northern pike is in Box Canyon Dam Reservoir, the species is also in Boundary Dam Reservoir further north on the Pend Oreille River. Anglers have also occasionally reported catching pike in the Columbia River just north of the Canada border, near Northport and just upstream of Kettle Falls, and in the Spokane River from Lake Couer d’Alene in Idaho to Long Lake in Spokane County.

Other western states with non-native populations of northern pike are facing challenges similar to Washington. Although northern pike are native to much of Alaska, they are not native to the southcentral part of the state where they were illegally stocked and are considered invasive. Pike have caused severe damage to native trout and salmon runs in several southcentral Alaska watersheds and Washington is trying to learn from that situation; for more information see the Alaska Department of Fish and Game northern pike webpage.

Northern Pike vs Tiger Muskie:
Know the Difference

Northern Pike
Tiger Muskie
Washington State now has both northern pike and tiger muskies inhabiting public waters. Both fish are “esocids”, which means they are members of the esocidae family. Other members of that family include muskellunge (true muskie) and pickerel. All share a similar, long body shape, oval in cross-section (hence the name “pike”, meaning spear or lance-shaped) and have a large duck-bill mouth with big teeth and a dorsal fin located near the tail fin. Learn more >>


Northern Pike
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  Northern Pike caught in Liberty Lake, WA where they were illegally introduced.
Northern Pike
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  This is an example of the voracious appetite of northern pike. This pike from Box Canyon Reservoir was full of adult pumpkinseed sunfish and yellow perch.
  Supression Reports