Life Cycle

Spawning takes place in shallow weedy water during the springtime. The exact timing of this spawning process is dictated entirely by water temperature, requiring a minimum of around 43°F (6°C).

In most years the majority of pike spawning takes place in late March to early April but small numbers of pike can usually be found spawning at any time from late February until late May. This spreading of the spawning activity helps to ensure that catastrophic natural events such as sudden floods, low water conditions cannot wipe out a whole years spawn in one fell swoop.

Spawning is a relatively sedate affair, with none of the frenzied activity synonymous with the cyprinid family. The much larger female swims along quietly, accompanied by between 2 and 4 smaller males, swimming line abreast in an eye-to-eye orientation, shedding eggs and milt as they go. With the males being shorter, this means that their milt sets up a cloud just in front of the females vent ensuring that a good proportion of the eggs become fertilized. (Normal natural fertility is 50%).It is also an indisputable fact that the female on completion of the act also summarily devours a sizable number of these small male pike
This is another example of the good economic sense of the pike. At a time when the female is in her worst condition of the year, a timely meal of pike flesh gives her a high protein/low fat food which enables her to build up her muscle tone quickly, an important consideration for a predator which relies so heavily on rapid acceleration for hunting. It appears from research carried out in the l950’s that pike become sexually mature during their second or third year, but size rather than age is the primary determining factor. The amount of eggs laid depends on the size of the fish.

For instance, a 3 pound pike will lay on average 35,000 eggs but a 28 pounder can lay almost 300,000. Once again water temperature is critical in determining the rate at which the eggs will develop. At 43°F the eggs will take approximately 26 days to hatch, but if the water temperature reaches 68°F then they will only take 5 days. When the young hatch, they are approximately 1 cm long and have no mouth or gill openings
They spend their first 8 to 12 days hanging vertically from aquatic plants, feeding on their yolk-sacs, until their development is complete. During this period, the body elongates and the mouth and gill openings form. Next the individual fish begin to form, then the ‘mini-pike’ assumes a horizontal attitude and begins feeding on plankton.

Within a few days, the development of the fins is completed and the pike becomes a fully developed mini-predator feeding mainly on the larvae of the caddis fly and the Dragonfly. If this food is in short supply, then a fair degree of predation on its own kind (cannibalism) occurs. By the end of the third week it is 3 cm long and has developed into a perfect, fully formed little pike. The pike now spends much of its time hiding deep in the weed beds using its striped camouflage to protect it from its elders (and even from its own siblings) . In addition, the young pike has to protect itself from predatory water beetles. Observation has shown that these voracious creatures can eat up to 5 pike fry every two days.

A less than auspicious beginning for a fish, which is capable of arousing such fear and loathing in humans. It is interesting to note that the pike only has its striped pattern for the first few years of its life, much of which it spends living in the weed beds for safety. As the fish grows larger, and consequently less vulnerable, this striped pattern breaks up into the more familiar spots and the fish spends less time holed up and more out in open water where its juvenile markings would be of limited value.

By the time a pike has reached two years old, it will be feeding almost exclusively on fish and it will be a very lucky pike indeed as less than 0.1% of the eggs laid survive to become mature fish.