Appetite & Ecology

The pikes appetite has been the inspiration for many an ‘old wives tale’. Throughout history, most of man’s dealings with Esox have been dominated by myth, superstition and his resulting fear.

Much of this may have originally stemmed from the writings of the Roman poet, Ausonius (c. 310-393), who was the first to introduce the term lucius, in one of his works. The pike is unflatteringly depicted as “besieging complaining frogs in obscure holes and its meat as being sold in cheap shops because of its reeking stink”.

And so the legend of the water wolf, the pond tyrant, etc., had begun

As man’s knowledge of the natural world expanded, almost all of the myths, half-truths and downright lies have been laid to rest by scientific research. But does the pike enjoy a more favorable press, NO CHANCE!! Even with all the scientific proof, many people still prefer to believe the ‘fairy tales’ passed down by word of mouth, from generation to generation, the unfortunate pike still being persecuted. As recently as 1988, a ‘respected’ journalist was writing nonsense in the national newspapers about a monster 6 foot long pike causing mayhem in Ireland. ‘Jaws’, as it was called, was snatching ducks and swans, devouring dogs and it had even tried to drag a heifer into the ‘deep, dark waters of Lough Ree’. While it is undoubtedly true that pike do on occasion take ducklings, rats and voles, it should be stressed that these make up less than 1% of their total food intake. They are opportunist feeders, feeding on what is most common and easiest to catch. On most waters, this will be the resident shoals of coarse fish which are numerous, slow moving and generally predictable in behaviour. Fish migrations, such as an influx of eels, spawning runs, etc., will also suffer a degree of predation, but these are special cases and the majority of feeding will be on the resident coarse fish.

The claims that pike ‘eat all the fish’ are clearly ridiculous as this would be self-defeating and soon result in the demise of the species. Pike or any other predator is not part of ecology solely for the benefit of itself, but it has an important role to play in the well being of the entire ecosystem of which it is an integral part.

The only occasion when there will be problems with the balance between predator and prey is when man, with his usual arrogance, thinks he knows better than mother nature and tries to ‘improve things. He usually does this by culling pike in the mistaken belief that it will improve his ‘game’ fishing.

What usually happens is that the bigger pike are removed first, which drastically reduces the amount of self-predation, which the species undoubtedly carries out. When this happens the smaller pike have nothing to control their numbers and they rapidly overpopulate the water. The immediate knock-on effect of this is overfeeding on the coarse fish and trout fry, which depletes the future stocks of these fish.

All this can happen relatively quickly, usually within 2 to 4 years. Eventually, the water will be full of stunted pike, coarse fish and trout, brought about by the artificial demand placed on the all-important food reserves normally only used by smaller, younger fish – in essence all the fish are young (by virtue of their size) and all feed on the same food sources.

Far better to leave things alone in the first place! Nature has handled things well enough for millions of years and it certainly doesn’t need any interference from a meddling newcomer – MAN!