Northern pike are an aggressive freshwater sports fish that are renown for their size and fight. There’s a reason they are a favorite with many anglers who enjoy the awesome fight that pike bring to each and every encounter. They also very large sizes, especially for a northern freshwater fish.
This makes many anglers wonder: just how old are those big pike? How long can a northern pike live?
While it’s rare for them to reach this age or size, the oldest (and largest) male northern pike top off at 25 years of age while females can theoretically live around 35 years. Those numbers may go up slightly in particularly cold weather northern climates where pike tend to live a little longer.
The further north you go, the longer pike tend to live. They also grow slightly more slowly. Those larger pike in the southern range of their habitat will be younger, and also live much less.
Pike Age & Size Are Related
In the articles I wrote on how fast northern pike grow and how old is a 40 inch pike, it’s clear that the size of a northern pike and how old it is are definitely related.
The exact formula for “guesstimating” this depends on location as pike grow faster at the southern range of their habitat but also live a shorter amount of time.
The reverse is true for the northern part of their range. Those pike grow more slowly but also tend to live longer.
Pike can actually live to especially old age for a freshwater sports fish, and with these habitat generalities in mind here are the average numbers:
Male northern pike max out at an age of around 24 or 25 years in ideal situations.
Female northern pike live longer, which is part of the reason this species of fish thrives. Because the bigger older females also tend to release more eggs, which means bigger spawns, and the already aggressive and often dominant northern pike population gets bigger.
Female northern pike tend to max out at around an age of 35 years old in ideal living situations.
At that top end you’re talking about the size pike that are within spitting distance of state, province, or world records.
Also keep in mind that this assumes those fish dodge anglers, disease, and other issues. After a certain size the only other predator for pike are other pike, and then once they get a bit bigger even that’s no longer an issue.
So that giant pike you caught? Depending how old you are it could be around the sage age as you and is certainly a couple decades old!
Maximum pike age, not averages
These are the upper levels of how old a pike can get. Even if they are not eaten by predators early on, injured by other pike, or caught by anglers, that doesn’t guarantee that every full grown pike will eventually hit those ages.
Each fish is a little different, each habitat is a little different. However, that doesn’t change the fact that male northern pike can live up to 25 years old while female northern pike can live up to 35 years.
Those are impressive ages for any fish and show just how resilient northern pike are to be able to even be possible to reach those numbers.
How Long Do Fish Related to Pike Live?
The impressive old age of trophy-sized northern pike doesn’t extend to the rest of the pike family nearly as much. In fact, of the other major species of fish found in the pike (Essox) family, only the Muskellunge, aka the “Muskie,” even comes close.
Pickerel, although the most often mistaken for pike, don’t get nearly as big and don’t live nearly as long. Whether you’re talking about redfin pickerel, chain pickerel, or the very pike-looking grass pickerel, the majority of adults don’t make it past 8 years of age.
The absolutely oldest pickerel out in the wild make it to around 10 years of age. Anything beyond that is an aberration or genetic anomaly. They may look like northern pike, but they certainly don’t live as long as pike!
Muskie are the one other fish in the pike family that tend to live about as long as big pike. The numbers can vary quite a bit, once again based on location and a variety of environmental and health factors.
However there are some overlapping numbers that do come up.
- According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Muskie max out at around 30 years old
- According to Wisconsin DNR they average 18 year as an adult but can live up to 30 years of age
- 13 to 21 years is the average age for muskie in Minnesota
- Most reports of Muskie up to 30 years are from those in isolated Canadian waters
Those largest and oldest ones are almost certainly female, same as with the northern pike. Females live longer than males, and the oldest muskie in the world right now are probably around 3 decades old.
Because of rarity there isn’t a lot known about their full life span or how long they can live. These aren’t fish that happen naturally in the wild very often, and when they do they can’t reproduce, so it’s much harder to track data on this.
Most tiger muskies are the result of intentional stocking since this fish is sterile. These fish grow at explosive rates, with most people believing the giants are that size by 10 years old and in all likelihood don’t live past the age of 15.
There might be the occasional genetic abnormality but on average most tiger muskie don’t make it past 10 or 11 years.
Given the right circumstances, pike can live a very long time and reach the types of sizes that anglers dream of. This tough fighting fish has the ability to be over 30 years old in the right circumstances, and you know a pike that has lived that long and reached that size has seen some things!
So there you have it. 25-35 years is the oldest a pike can get based on the environment and if the pike is male or female.