Northern pike have a well-earned reputation as a hard fighting freshwater sports fish that are extremely popular with anglers. Obviously we’re big fans as my brother and I have enjoyed fishing for them for nearly three decades now. But not every angler has had that enjoyable experience.
So what happens if an angler can’t find a local pike guide? What’s the situation? This is something that comes up when anglers email us to ask: “Are there northern pike in California?”
Northern pike are not native to California nor can they be legally stocked in the state. The pike is considered an invasive species dangerous to native local fish because of their voracious appetite and ability to rapidly multiply to large sizes.
So what’s this mean for a pike angler in California?
If you an avid pike angler who recently moved to California, or a long-timer fisher living in The Golden State who wants to see what the northern pike brings to the table…well there’s some bad news on this one.
You won’t find any pike fishing in the state of California. And if you do…well that’s a problem!
Pike Are an Invasive Species in California
Yup. As widespread as the northern pike is, they are not native to California (or Oregon or Washington, for that matter). This is the main reason there was no entry for the California pike state record in our huge guide on state pike fishing records.
The northern pike is not native to the state of California and that makes it an invasive species. In addition, the same characteristics that make pike so popular with anglers gives them special designation as one of the most dangerous types of invasive species in the state.
If you somehow pull a pike out of the Sacramento River, some northern lakes, or any other body of water in CA for that matter, then there are a series of steps you are legally bound to take according to California state law.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
Per California Code of Regulations (Title 14), any northern pike found in California shall be killed immediately by removing the head. CDFW shall be contacted as soon as possible and within 24 hours by calling (888) 334-2258.Title 14, as referenced by the CDFW
So that’s pretty clear cut. Also taking as much information or recording as many details as possible about where EXACTLY the fish was caught. Especially if you’re on a large body of water.
This can help the wildlife authorities to track the problem and do their best to contain it before it ends up doing severe damage to the local trout and salmon populations that California anglers are used to being able to enjoy while out fishing.
Are There Any Members of the Pike Family in California?
No member of the pike family (Esox) are native to the state of California. While this might disappoint some anglers, it’s important information to know. There are no pike in the state, no muskies, no tiger muskies, no pickerel of any kind. There is an occasional incident where an illegally introduced population is beginning to get a foothold in the area but these are responded to quite strongly by the state’s wildlife management.
The last pickerel spotted in California was north of San Diego in 1978 and was killed as it was also an invasive species. There hasn’t been a verified occurrence of chain pickerel since.
Invasive Pike Recordings
There have been several times where enough pike were caught to force a concerted effort to wipe out the invasive species.
While we love pike fishing, they are a voracious fish and should NOT be introduced where they don’t naturally occur.
This was the right move, and the state has done a good job in keeping them from getting a foothold.
The most notable recent incidents of invasive pike include:
- Frenchman Reservoir 1988 (eradicated 1988)
- Sierra Valley Tributary Streams 1992 (eradicated 1992)
- Lake Davis 1994 & 1997 (eradicated 2007)
Although the first attempt to get rid of them from Lake Davis failed, persistence in making sure the invasive pike weren’t allowed to overwhelm the native fish populations in the lake did eventually prove successful after multiple more attempts.
At this point (knock on wood) there’s no example of invasive pike in the state.
This also means there will never be a state record northern pike for California because state records are meant to celebrate the catching of fish native to the area, not encourage the potential of introducing outside species for a listing in a record book.
Pike Fishing: Not for California
While it can be a bit of a bummer if you grew up enjoying the fight that followed hooking a big trophy sized northern pike, you’re not going to find that in the Golden State. The trout fishing and salmon fishing can be amazing but if you’re looking for that special experience that only a big pike or big muskie can bring you, then it’s time to book a trip to another state.
There are no pike that occur naturally in the state and while that is bad news for pike anglers who adore this freshwater wolf, it probably is very good news for local sunfish, trout, and salmon populations that anglers found throughout the state enjoy going after.