Why Are Northern Pike So Slimy?

There’s no denying the reputation of the northern pike as a slimy fish. While many fish produce some slime in the water, pike produce enough that “snot rocket” is one of their most common nicknames after snake fish and jackfish. Not a very flattering nickname, for sure.

But why are pike so slimy? There actually are a few good reasons for this.

The scientific reason for pike being so slimy is the glycol-proteins in the pike’s skin, which produce slime when exposed to water. From a practical purpose the slime cuts friction in the water making the pike faster, quicker, and capable of crazy ambushes on their prey.

While maybe not flattering this trait of sliminess has many advantages that the northern pike uses to the fullest in whatever environment it finds itself in.

Billings Gazette fishing comic strip
Great fishing comic, we do NOT own the copyright. This was taken from the Billings Gazette online newspaper (linked) – PLEASE check them out to support local & regional journalism.

Examining Nature’s Snot Rockets

If pike had feelings I’m sure they’d prefer freshwater wolf, but snot rocket is a nickname that is very well earned. “Slimer” is another one that picked up after the first Ghostbusters movie. So why are pike so slimy when many other fish are not? Why do they have this trait that so many other fish don’t?

Some sites barely touch on this question, with one example being the Minnesota DNR which gives a great rundown of the pike species, but only mentions the sliminess in one single line before moving on.

There have been studies done by wildlife biologists diving deeper into this question and in the studies they have shown and published it turns out there are a variety of reasons for pike to have their slimy exterior.

This is a trait that most fish share, but the pike admittedly tend to take it to the extreme.

However, these benefits of the extra slime are part of the reason that pike tend to be the kinds of their northern freshwater territories.

What Benefits Does Slime Give Pike?

  • Protection for their skin. Since pike tend to hunt in areas with many sticks, weeds, downed logs, they’re more likely to be in places where they could get errantly hurt or damaged. The slime is like a protective shield for the skin protecting from infected injuries.
  • Faster/quicker movement that is perfect for an ambush predator that needs a lot of food to get to their big upper limit sizes.
  • The slime has evolved to help keep a proper healthy balance in the northern pike’s internal systems and health.
  • Perfect for those “bursts of speed” which pike are famous for when they spot and then hunt down prey. That burst of speed is aided by the slime because the slime reduces the friction of water against the pike’s body that would otherwise slow it down more.
  • The slime can give pike a slightly better chance when they’re small of escaping predators. This is less of an issue after a certain size, but then again anyone who has had a big pike put hooks in their hand before it slid out of the boat knows how painfully relevant this point can be.

If you have any doubts, just take a look at the video below of pike using that extra bit of speed and quickness from reduced friction to strike.

How Should Anglers Handle the Slime?

There are two main situations where the sliminess of the pike matters to the angler. Those are:

  • Being careful to make sure a slippery pike doesn’t put a hook in your hand (or bite your hand with those razor sharp teeth)
  • Making sure the slime doesn’t spoil that great tasting pike flesh from the pike you keep off the stringer

The second point is easy enough. A thorough washing with a hose before skinning the pike is important to make sure there isn’t excess slime around. There were also always multiple “snot rags” around that would get used, one per pike, before hitting the laundry, for the times of year up in Canada where the pike were especially slimy.

When timing things out an old rule of thumb was “Keep them last but clean them first.” Having a properly aerated live well helps with things, and you don’t want dead pike that aren’t properly skinned and filleted kept in the cooler for a long period of time.

We never let a northern hit the ice of a cooler, and that seemed to help us avoid many of the problems that other anglers complained about when it came to these tough freshwater fighters.

As for the second, I recommend the right tools, combined with a respectful caution.

So what can help?

This varies based on which anglers you talk to. In my experience a good pair of fishing gloves and needle nose pliers for removing hooks from the pike’s mouth are tools enough.

This may vary depending on the size and fight of the pike you hook and deal with, what local catch and release rules are, as well as your experience handling these admittedly slick and slippery fish.

This isn’t a product review so I won’t go into too much, but if you want the right tools for safely dealing with the sliminess of the northern pike, my favorite pair of fishing gloves and fishing pliers can be found below.

Favorite Fishing Gloves: Palmyth Flexible Fishing Gloves

Some of the best fishing gloves around from a company that understands fishing.

Favorite Fishing Pliers: Piscifun Premium Aluminum Fishing Pliers

Lots of good options out there, these are great all-purpose fishing pliers.

Pike Striking Lures/Fish Underwater Video

In Conclusion

While being slimy might not be a flattering feature, it is one that has served the pike really well. While there are many pike myths out there, the pike being slimy is not one of them. This is a legitimate observation on the fish but it is one that actually makes sense.

The slime helps northern pike be the local apex predator in any cold body of northern freshwater they’re in. While it might be inconvenient for us anglers bringing them in, this is a major part of what makes these fish the beloved trophies so many of us chase.

Now you know how to handle even the slimiest of pike. Happy pike fishing!