And oh, those jaws have a life of their own. A Russian who was excited at catching a pike at a reservoir outside Moscow tried to celebrate his catch by grabbing the pike from the boat and kissing it. The pike clamped the man’s nose, and even cutting the pike’s head off would not release the jaws--they had to be pried off at the local hospital.

 

Although I’ve never come within kissing distance, I have approached them dozens of times at a distance of a little over a foot, and as long as there is no abrupt movement, they will stay dead still and stare you down, looking malevolent but usually moving slowly away after a few minutes. Although they are considered to be solitary, I’ve come upon them in groups of 4 or 5 and had them accept my presence naturally.

They are very early spawners, attempting to mate right after the first ice out and in very marshy areas, moving into meadows that have been flooded by high spring waters. Surprisingly it is the female pike that is larger, and the mating begins with 2-3 smaller males swimming on each side of the considerably larger female, competing for the chance to mate. Anywhere from 100,000 to one million eggs are laid, depending on the size of the female. They build no nests and are broadcast spawners, scattering their adhesive eggs to the bottom. Unlike the bluegill, the young are given no parental attention.

 

They are cannibalistic--of a group of young pike in an aquarium there will soon be just one animal surviving, this one having eaten all its brothers and sisters. One fisherman told of hooking a one-foot pike and when he tried to land the fish a still larger pike appeared and swallowed the hooked specimen.

A snorkeler can see many 2-3 foot pike near shore, but as the water gets warmer, only the smaller ones will stay, as the larger ones do not tolerate extreme warm conditions and will move to deeper waters.

 

Without a doubt, a close encounter with a big pike is a snorkeler’s thrill. But just as exciting in a very different way is a much more common meeting with a big bowfin, a primitive fish dating back to the Cretaceous period more than 100 million years ago. As living fossils, they have obviously been able to survive under conditions that would kill other fish. They are unusual in their ability when water gets too polluted or stagnant to surface and breathe air--I once saw a bowfin do this 5 times in just one minute--a most unusual sight. Farmers have plowed their fields where water has receded and have come upon bowfin who are dormant and can be revived. An ancient fish in design, it looks more like a serpent than a fish except for being much thicker. They are my favorite fish for their smiley face and friendly manner. They love people and will swim alongside you, never too close, but just curious to see you and watch your movements. From 2 to 3 feet long, they’re light brown or gray in color and live to be about 12 years old in the wild, 30 in captivity.

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