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June 28th, 2013

Meet Your Species: Northern Pike

You either love ’em or hate ’em. The plentiful northern pike of Manitoba inhabit nearly every body of water in these parts. They share big-fish status with sturgeon, catfish and carp, but pike trump all when it comes to the fight. Let’s have a closer look at these monsters of the deep.

What’s in a name? Our beloved Esox lucius inhabit waters throughout the northern hemisphere including Russia and Europe. A little closer to home, they’re plentiful in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec and most of the northern states. In Manitoba, you’ll hear them called jackfish most often. If you come from Minnesota, Wisconsin or Illinois, you probably use the term ‘northerns’. Everywhere, they sport colourful nicknames including slough shark, Sharptooth McGraw and snot rocket.

About the slime, the teeth and those bones Northern pike have some distinguishing features that have kept them off dinner plates, at least in North America (they have a long culinary history in Europe). There’s that extra-thick layer of mucous that some folks just can’t learn to love. It’s there to protect the fish and once filleted, it’s gone for good. Then there are those famous teeth. Any die-hard pike angler will be able to show you a collection of scars on her hands. Get yourself a pair of long pliers, a mouth-spreader and prepare to do some delicate work to remove that hook. And finally there’s the bones. Pike have a stubborn row of Y-bones that take a little extra skill and patience to remove. But once they're gone, get ready to taste some of the best freshwater fish we have to offer.

Tackling the catching question. There’s an old angling saying that goes something like this: the larger the lure, the larger the fish. It can’t hurt to give it a try, so spool up some 15 pound braided line, tie on a titanium leader and hook on a lure that looks more like a Christmas tree ornament. Any kind of bucktail will do the trick. You can’t go wrong with the big Len Thompson Five of Diamonds either. Be prepared to set that hook and hunker down for a good fight!

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