Esox (Linnaeus, 1758) is a genus of freshwater fish, a member of the pike family (family Esocidae) of order Esociformes such as the Muskellunge. The type species is E. lucius, the northern pike. The species of this genus are known as the pike.
The pike species are native to the Palearctic and Nearctic ecozones, ranging across northern North America and from Western Europe to Siberia in Eurasia. They have been found in many urban lakes in Western Europe, reported to be in the Rostrum (Lucerne) and the Serpentine, (London).
Pike can grow to a maximum recorded length of 1.83 metres (6 ft), reaching a maximum recorded weight of 35 kilograms (77 lb). The UK record pike was caught at Llandegfedd Reservoir in Wales in 1992. Individuals have been reported to reach 30 years in age. They have the elongated, torpedo-like form of predatory fishes, with sharply-pointed heads and sharp teeth. Their coloration is typically grey-green with a mottled or spotted appearance with stripes along its back, perfectly camouflaged among weeds. Individual pike marking patterns are unique, like fingerprints.
A northern English and Lowland Scots name for the pike, ged, similarly derives from Old Norse gaddr (spike) (cf. the modern Swedish name for the pike, gädda, the Danish "gedde", the Norwegian "gjedde" and Scottish Gaelic: geadais). The Finnish name hauki and Estonian haug derive from verb haukata, to bite, Polish - szczupak, French - brochet, German - Hecht, Spanish - lucio, Italian - luccio.
The English "pike" originally referred specifically to the adult fish, the diminutive form "pickerel" (now used to name some of the smaller pikes, E. americanus and E. niger) referring to the young. The walleye (Sander vitreus) is sometimes called a pickerel, but it is unrelated to the pikes, being a member of the perch family (family Percidae). The pikes are not to be confused with the unrelated pikeminnows (traditionally, and perhaps better, known as squawfish) of genus Ptychocheilus (family Cyprinidae) or pikeperch (Sander lucioperca) which is more akin to walleye than to pike.
Two United States Navy submarines have been named Pike, SS-6 of 1903 and SS-173 of 1935, and three, SS-22 of 1912, SS-177 of 1936, and SS-524 of 1944, named Pickerel. In addition, the Soviet submarines known to NATO as the Victor III class were called the Shchuka (Щука, "pike") class, in Russian. The Soviet Iosif Stalin tank (IS-3) was also nicknamed Shchuka, in reference to its sharply pointed hull front.
The pike feeds on a wide range of food sources, predominantly smaller shoal fish. Pike are also cannibalistic, sometimes preying upon smaller members of their own species. They are undeserving of their fierce reputation with only a few minor incidents of pike 'attacks' on people being substantiated.
They will also prey on insects and amphibians such as newts or frogs in times when food is scarce, and occasionally on small mammals, like moles or mice when caught water-borne. Small birds such as ducklings may become a target for hungry pike. Pikes are also known to prey on swimming snakes, such as vipers.
Contrary to popular myth the pike is not a notoriously voracious fish. Its reputation as a pest seems to predominate amongst anglers whose focus is on other species. Introduction of pike into an ecosystem, rather than resulting in all other fish being killed, will result in a healthier fish population as the pike will predominantly feed on ill or dying fish. A natural biopyramid will be established with the pike as the top predator.
Pike angling as a key part of general coarse fishing is becoming an increasingly popular pastime in the UK and Europe. Effective methods for catching this hard-fighting fish include dead baits, live baits and lure fishing. Pike can easily be damaged when handled since they are not as robust as their reputation would suggest. Colour of lure can be influenced by water clarity and weather conditions. Since pike have numerous sharp teeth it is wise to take extreme care when unhooking the pike. The use of a wet leather gauntlet and surgical forceps to remove hooks is highly recommended on safety grounds. Care for the pike should be the pike angler's utmost concern. The formerly recommended practice of grasping a pike by its eye sockets (tragically interpreted as "its eyes") resulted in countless released pike that quickly died from inability to see prey any longer. The current recommended method of grasping pike is to close the hand firmly over the gill covers, and to make the period of handling the pike as short as possible before release. The Pike Anglers Club was formed in 1977 to campaign for the preservation of the pike and the sport of pike fishing.
A practice known as 'gut hooking' was previously widely used in catching pike. Upon taking the bait the pike will hold it for a short time in its mouth as it moves off. The pike will then, usually, turn the bait in its mouth so that it sits in alignment with the pike's throat to ease swallowing. It is recommended that when pike fishing the process is not allowed to go this far and a strike is recommended as soon as a bite is indicated. Otherwise what is known as 'gut hooking' will result which will normally kill or seriously injure the fish. Other methods of catching and handing pike which are now frowned upon are the gaff and the gag. The gaff is a metal hook on the end of a pole used to hook through the fish's body in place of a more humane landing net. A gag is a device for holding open the pike's mouth whilst unhooking. These are now illegal as they put a huge amount of pressure on a pike's jaw thus causing irreparable damage.
Pike has been revered as a food fish at least as far back as the ancient Romans, where many recipes for their preparation are found. The flesh is very white, mild with a delicate and distinctive earthy flavor of its own. It has the leanest flesh of all freshwater fishes. It can be poached or broiled (with adequate basting) but like most low fat fish, it is at its best breaded and fried. Its main drawback is the extra layer of bones, called "Y bones" in its flesh, which are specific to this species. The "Y" bones are not removed during normal filleting techniques. Hence, pike can be delicious, but must be eaten carefully.
Russian mythology holds that the pike is one of several forms assumed by evil water spirits called vodyanoy, and a ravenous mythical pike is traditionally blamed for decimating the fish population in the Sheksna River.