What Do Northern Pike Eat?

Few fish are as famous as the northern pike for being voracious predators who love to eat – and they have a big appetite! There’s a reason this aggressive freshwater fish has earned the nickname of “freshwater wolf.” Even smaller pike aren’t safe when a big pike decides that it’s feeding time!

Northern pike even as small fry eat insects, larvae, bugs, and minnows. Larger pike will eat a wide array of animals like fish (including smaller pike), mice, frogs, muskrats, amphibians, crayfish, and even small ducklings. If it’s small enough to swallow and made of meat, a pike might consider it dinner!

Few fish have as many crazy stories as the pike when it comes to “that duck just disappeared” or my favorite “The lure was 9 inches long, the pike was 8.” This is a hungry fish, and it really is amazing to see everything that can be in a northern pike’s diet.

Big pike with bigger mouth held by angler
Amazing picture showing incredible size of pike’s mouth (look at those teeth!) photo copyright belongs to Alexandru-Stoica who originally posted this at https://www.reddit.com/r/Fishing/comments/fcvqiu/huge_mouth_on_this_northern_pike/

Pike Like to Eat About Anything That Moves

One of the quickest ways to know what pike like to eat in your area is by looking around to see what small fish and animals are in the local waters. Pike aren’t picky eaters. They are aggressive carnivores.

If there’s an animal small enough to strike and swallow, that’s a potential meal for the northern pike.

Just a short list of various animals and fish pike have been confirmed to have eaten can be well over a dozen different animals, even before looking into the various fish.

A list of what northern pike eat includes:

  • Alewives
  • Bass
  • Birds
  • Bluegill
  • Burbot
  • Carp
  • Chub
  • Ducks (usually babies or younglings…usually)
  • Frogs
  • Insects
  • Mice
  • Muskrats
  • Muskie
  • Northern Pike
  • Rats
  • Salamanders
  • Shad
  • Snakes
  • Spottail Shiners
  • Walleye
  • White Suckers
  • Worms
  • Yellow perch

That is far from a complete list. There are many more small animals, birds, and fish that have found themselves lunch for a medium to large sized pike that was in the right spot at the right time.

You might have noticed that muskellunge and pike were on that list. Those aren’t typos. Big members of the Esox family like northern pike, musky, and tiger musky aren’t picky. They are 100% fine with being cannibals and eating other pike or musky.

Apparently someone let loose the secret of how musky tastes and how northern pike tastes (Hint: delicious).

There’s a reason these big and fast growing freshwater fish hit the top of the food chain. Pikes are more than happy to eat anything up to half their size. To the point where there are many confirmed instances of big pike choking to death on fish that were too big for them to swallow.

For example these confirmed stories of pike choking to death eating ducks or pike choking to death on carp.

Also since we already mentioned it: I’ll take the taste of pike or musky over carp any day of the week!

So as you can see, pike like to eat. They like to eat a lot, and they have a well-deserved reputation for sometimes biting off more than they can chew.

How to Use This Knowledge to Pike Fish Better

If you’re going for big pike and musky, and don’t mind many less hits to reduce it to just the trophy sized Esox fish, then you can use this knowledge of what pike eat to look for long specialty lures shaped like ducks, mice, or muskrats.

You can use lures that are 9 to 12 inches in length instead of smaller minnow sized crankbait.

If you prefer fishing with live bait this is where hooking up suckers for musky or pike is a strategy that gives you a big enough fish to get the interest of these large hungry fish.

There’s an especially strong believe among many anglers that pike just seem to react to bluegill. In areas where both these fish can be found or you can use bluegill for bait (never introduce a new species to an environment it’s not native to) then you may want to take a look at how to fish with these tough little panfish.

Pike live bait fishing isn’t going to be nearly as common as using lures but it can be a way to really set off those hunter instincts that northern pike have and give you an even better chance of getting those big pike to strike.

There have been multiple studies on what pike eat done by the University of Alberta. Studies like this or this both have some really interesting findings, however it’s worth noting that the “most common things pike eat” are pretty much always the small fish that thrive in the local ecosystem.

In Alberta that might be white suckers, yellow perch, and sometimes smallmouth bass. In other locations where sunfish, bluegills, alewives, and other fish are more common, those will almost certainly be the most common part of a pike’s diet.

So look for lures that look like things that can be found in the area, disturb the water quite a bit, and look for those grassy shorelines or ambush territories that pike just love!

Pike Eats Duck Fairbanks AK

This video isn’t surprising, except for maybe the fact it shows that a pike doesn’t need to be gigantic or huge to eat small ducks or other water fowl. These fish are carnivores, they’re hunters, and you can see from how quick it sees an opportunity and takes it how they became top of their food chain.

There are actually dozens upon dozens of videos on YouTube of northern pike eating ducks. Keep in mind, those are just times when people were in the right place at the right time to record it.

All part of nature’s cycle.

Giant Muskie Eats Big Pike

The biggest fish in the Esox family just don’t care. If they can catch it, kill it, and eat it, then that’s lunch. Even a pretty good sized pike in that video was still lunch when a much larger musky turned out to be hungry and in the neighborhood.

In this case, the pike that was used to being top of the food chain had the tables turned on it by an even bigger musky. After a certain size the only natural predators that these fish have are even bigger musky or pike.

And the obsessed fishermen looking to reel another one in.

Pike are top of the food chain once they hit a certain size, which gives them such a variety when it comes to what they can eat for food.

In Conclusion

Pike are aggressive predators that are always happy to grab another meal whether that is in insect, fish, small mammal, or bird form. Big pike like big meals and if that means rat or duck versus a small fish, so be it!

Big pike eat an impressive array of animals and among fresh water fish you are going to be hard pressed to find another one with this big a voracious appetite.

More Great Resources on Pike