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Identifying juvenile Grass Pickerel and juvenile Northern Pike


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#1 NateTessler13

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  • Bowling Green, OH

Posted 10 August 2010 - 03:10 PM

Hello everyone,

As part of my research, I have to be able to distinguish the difference between juvenile northern pike (Esox lucius) and juvenile grass pickerel (Esox americanus vermiculatus).  I figured I could pass along the knowledge I've gained through the years, as to help others readily tell the difference between the two species.  As juveniles, these two species can be difficult to separate.  But a few key characteristics can quite diagnostic.  I'll outline those below.  A paper published by Kleinert and Mraz in 1966 did a fantastic job of illustrating the morphological differences between the two species starting from young fry (12 mm long) all the way up to advanced fingerlings (75 mm long).  That paper can be found online here.  On pages 23-26 of their paper, they discuss the differences (with fantastic photos) between the two species.  Please, use this as a guide.

I'll add some additional information from personal photos below.

For me, the simplest way to tell the two species apart, when they're both juvenile, is to look for the presence or absence of a "pigment-free line" below the lateral line.  Let me demonstrate what I mean by that.  Below is a picture of a juvenile Grass Pickerel (around 40 mm in length);
Posted Image
Laterally, there is a pretty distinct bar that has a gold appearance to it.  That is the "pigment-free line" that I'm talking about.  I highlighted it with red in this picture;
Posted Image

Now, let's observe a juvenile Northern Pike of about the same size;
Posted Image
There's no "pigment-free line" below the lateral line on this fish.

The differences become more exaggerated as the fish mature.  Here is an adult Grass Pickerel (which is sometimes confused with juvenile Northern Pike);
Posted Image
You may have to use your imagination a bit, but the "pigment-free line" is still present on the adult Grass Pickerel (highlighted in red).
Posted Image

A Northern Pike of that size starts to take on a different appearance and becomes easier to distinguish;
Posted Image
Posted Image
Note the lack of a "pigment-free line" on the Northern Pike.

Adult Northern Pike will have markings quite different from juveniles;
Posted Image
Aside from the size of this fish, note that it has no "pigment-free line" as an adult.

I hope this serves as a helpful tool for identification of juvenile northern pike and juvenile grass pickerel.  Please feel free to ask questions.  I'll also post some pictures below of both juvenile Grass Pickerel and juvenile Northern Pike.  If you feel comfortable identifying these fish here, then hopefully you'll be able to do so in the field.
Nate Tessler
Aquatic Biologist

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#2 NateTessler13

NateTessler13
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  • Bowling Green, OH

Posted 10 August 2010 - 03:25 PM

A quiz to help you sharpen your juvenile Northern Pike and juvenile Grass Pickerel skills.  Feel free to PM me if you'd like to check your answers.

A. Posted Image
B. Posted Image
C. Posted Image (picture by Lance Merry)
D. Posted Image
E. Posted Image
F. Posted Image (picture by Uland Thomas)
G. Posted Image
H. Posted Image

Good luck!
Nate Tessler
Aquatic Biologist

Link to my NANFA Gallery

#3 natureman187

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  • Decatur, IL

Posted 10 August 2010 - 03:44 PM

Great topic Nate. Personally not knowing the differences, that information will be very useful.
Thank you for this.

Sangamon River Valley


#4 blakemarkwell

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  • Decatur, Illinois

Posted 10 August 2010 - 04:07 PM

Nate,

Thanks for taking the time to construct a very informative post! That pigment-free line seems pretty diagnostic -- I never knew it was quite that easy and will have to integrate it into practice next time I have a juvenile Esox in the net.

Blake
Blake Markwell
Sangamon River

#5 NateTessler13

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  • Bowling Green, OH

Posted 10 August 2010 - 04:13 PM

View Postnatureman187, on 10 August 2010 - 03:44 PM, said:

Great topic Nate. Personally not knowing the differences, that information will be very useful.
Thank you for this.

View Postblakemarkwell, on 10 August 2010 - 04:07 PM, said:

Nate,

Thanks for taking the time to construct a very informative post! That pigment-free line seems pretty diagnostic -- I never knew it was quite that easy and will have to integrate it into practice next time I have a juvenile Esox in the net.

Blake

Glad that I could help.  :)
Nate Tessler
Aquatic Biologist

Link to my NANFA Gallery

#6 Skipjack

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  • Support Staff
  • Little Miami river drainage SW Ohio.

Posted 10 August 2010 - 09:27 PM

That is a great tip there Nate. Thanks for putting that together!

Matt DeLaVega


#7 dmarkley

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  • near Lancaster, PA

Posted 11 August 2010 - 08:23 AM

View PostNateTessler13, on 10 August 2010 - 04:13 PM, said:

Glad that I could help.  :)

Any thoughts on whether this also works with redfins?
Susquehanna River Drainage

#8 EdBihary

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Posted 11 August 2010 - 05:02 PM

Redfin pickerels are basically the same as grass pickerels (different subspecies), except they have red and brown pigment instead of only shades of green.

Another notable difference you can see in the pictures is that pikes (both northerns and muskies) have spots and their fins and pickerels don't.

#9 NateTessler13

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  • Bowling Green, OH

Posted 21 September 2010 - 02:19 PM

View PostEdBihary, on 11 August 2010 - 05:02 PM, said:

Another notable difference you can see in the pictures is that pikes (both northerns and muskies) have spots and their fins and pickerels don't.

I would caution that the spotting on the fins can be difficult to decipher on juvenile pike and pickerel.  In general, I avoid using this characteristic.  My point would be that the fish in picture A is a northern pike, but the spots aren't readily visible.  Also while looking at picture F, one might say that fish has some spotting on its fins, although it is a grass pickerel.  Just my two cents on that one.
Nate Tessler
Aquatic Biologist

Link to my NANFA Gallery

#10 Mason22

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  • Davenport, IA

Posted 09 October 2010 - 02:02 PM

I was wondering if this works for Chain Pickerel as well?? I have been to this same spot twice now and have sampled an Esox fish but I am not sure what type. There is no pigment free line but the stream I have been too seems much too small to house Northern Pike.

#11 star5328

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  • Tiffin, OH

Posted 09 October 2010 - 07:40 PM

View PostMason22, on 09 October 2010 - 02:02 PM, said:

I was wondering if this works for Chain Pickerel as well?? I have been to this same spot twice now and have sampled an Esox fish but I am not sure what type. There is no pigment free line but the stream I have been too seems much too small to house Northern Pike.

Pike spawn in places like this also, don't underestimate where they'll jam themselves into while spawning

#12 schambers

schambers
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  • Maumee River, Toledo, Ohio

Posted 09 October 2010 - 10:04 PM

Plus the little ditches are much higher in the spring when the pike are spawning.
Susan

Toledo Reef Aquarium Club - And Freshwater Too!

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." - Anatole France

#13 Mason22

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  • Davenport, IA

Posted 10 October 2010 - 04:09 PM

Thanks! Does it mean that since I am catching Pike here, that I more then likely am not going to catch Pickerel??

Edited by Mason22, 10 October 2010 - 04:43 PM.


#14 star5328

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  • Tiffin, OH

Posted 10 October 2010 - 04:41 PM

View PostMason22, on 10 October 2010 - 04:09 PM, said:

Thanks! Does it mean that since I am catching Pike here, that I more then likely not goint to catch Pickerel??

I don't know if Pike spawn any time other than spring, if they don't, then any pike you'd find now would be pretty good sized i'd imagine.

#15 NVCichlids

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 12:05 PM

I know this is old, and I know I deleted my PM response, but does anyone have the answers again.. I totally forgot and would like to refresh before going out to a known habitat where I will be finding these in large numbers.

-Nate
I Love our Natives!
><((((>`..`..`...><((((>
`.. , . .`.. ><((((>

#16 NateTessler13

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  • Bowling Green, OH

Posted 02 July 2011 - 08:55 PM

View PostNVCichlids, on 02 July 2011 - 12:05 PM, said:

I know this is old, and I know I deleted my PM response, but does anyone have the answers again.. I totally forgot and would like to refresh before going out to a known habitat where I will be finding these in large numbers.

-Nate


A. Northern pike
B. Northern pike
C. Grass pickerel
D. Northern pike
E. Grass pickerel
F. Grass pickerel
G. Northern pike
H. Northern pike
Nate Tessler
Aquatic Biologist

Link to my NANFA Gallery

#17 mainstreet49

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  • hamilton

Posted 23 June 2013 - 11:33 AM

Im  From hamilton area. I'm wondering where to catch pike and pickerel fingerlings. Anyone know???

#18 MrCatfish

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 11:57 AM

Hamilton ?

#19 Kanus

Kanus
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  • Blacksburg, VA

Posted 23 June 2013 - 12:38 PM

This reminds me, Nate asked me to post this comparison photo I made a few years back on this thread. Both the fish in the photos are somewhere around 2-3 inches. Hopefully it can help someone in the future...

Posted Image
Derek Wheaton

On a mountain overlooking the North Fork Roanoke River on one side, the New River Valley on the other, and a few minutes away from the James River watershed...the good life...

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#20 redfire311

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  • Brockport, NY

Posted 31 August 2013 - 10:51 PM

 mainstreet49, on 23 June 2013 - 11:33 AM, said:

Im  From hamilton area. I'm wondering where to catch pike and pickerel fingerlings. Anyone know???

If you mean Hamilton, Ontario, we caught many adult pike in Cootes Paradise a few summers ago in our fyke nets.  I imagine going into Desjardin canal would be productive.  Look for any shallow, weedy spots near emergent vegetation.

Nate, thanks for this really good tip.  I've been struggling with juvy esocids all summer and have been using the scaled cheek/operculum method, but when they're 2" long the scales get darned small and frankly I don't trust that character at that size.  Thanks much.

Dave



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