In our waters the pike reproduces in Spring, between mid February and April, depending on the region. On high ground, spawning may not take place until June.
It is the water temperature which is the deciding factor when it comes to the migration that precedes reproduction. In fact the journeys made by pike though modest in term of distance, ie. a few thousand or just several hundred metres, are nether the less migrations in the true sense of the word. In other words both the males and the females strike out in search of areas rich in vegetation, not too deep, which warm up quickly beneath the pale rays of the winter sun.
Along the banks of lakes and ponds, flooded islands, low lying areas of land submerged by spring floods, marshland, backwaters overgrown with trees and tangled roots, shallows, creeks, and even drainage ditches-all serve as excellent environments for pike to reproduce in. Though the presence of vegetation is essential, when it comes to the point of reproduction pike show little discrimination in terms of the surface on which they lay their sticky eggs. Since genuine aquatic plants will not have fully developed at this time of year, it is submerged land-based vegetation of the herbaceous variety which will be used as a nursery for the fry. Thus owners of bare steep gravel pits are advised to provide clumps of fir or broom branches in the shallower, sunny areas if they want to encourage pike to reproduce in their waters.
The female, surrounded by several small males who line up to assist with the fertilization process, moves about a great deal and lays her eggs over large areas In contrast with the salmonidae, or with Zander, which clean the area in which they intend to lay their eggs, pike play particular attention when choosing a place for this purpose. This means there is a great risk if the waters are made cloudy. It only takes some disturbance in the water, depositing a film of mud on the eggs, and they are likely to be suffocated .The other great risk to which fry are exposed is a sudden lowering of the water level which has the disaterous effect of drying out the spawning grounds. If all goes well the fry, will take between anywhere from a few days and a few weeks to hatch, depending on the water temperature, will then remain fixed to the grasses or submerged plant stems until absorbtion of the yolk sc is complete ( around twelve days on average ). As soon as they reach the free-swimming stage they become very active feeders on the zooplankton present in their immediate environment. At the second stage, and this takes place very quickly, the tiny fish give their attention to catching the larvae of insects and other micro-invertebrates. Finally, when they reach the age of two to three months, they have become completely fish-eating. But since the other species of fish, and the cyprinidae in particular, have not yet spawned, cannibalism has a decimating effect on the ranks of newly hatched pike.
In a food rich environment, and when winters are not to harsh, the growth rate of pike is one of the most marked among freshwater fish in our part of the world (only catfish outstrips it). At one year old it can easily reach the size at which angler are officially permitted to fish it, ie. 15 inches, though it will not even have reproduced at this stage. Thereafter it will gain two pounds, and subsequently four pounds, a year until, at the age of seven or eight, it reaches the famous "20-pounder" size so sought after by anglers. In the extensive limestone lakes of western ireland, which benefits from the temperate climate of the gulf stream, this size may be reached in only six years as it is in several English waters. In less favoured European waters it can be assumed that a 10-pounder is between five and six years old, and that a 20-pounder is around ten. Neverless a good performance, despite the fact that current legislation does not enable us to benefit from this fully, but allows the greedy to get away with eating our corn while it is still unripe.
As a very effective predator, living primarily on the flesh of other fish, the pike is not averse to eating the occasional frog or small amphibian mammals. It stalks them unnoticed, making excellent use of the camouflage nature has bestowed on it. Completely motionless, and quite invisible in its normal habitat, it lies in wait beneath a water plant or alongside a submerged tree stump until a shoal of roach, bleak or perch enters its area of operations. To identify the approach of its prey it uses its sense of sight and smell, but it is primarily the "radar" of its lateral line, together with the receptor pores in its head, which alert it not only to the direction, but also to the speed of approach of a shoal of fish. By means of very slow movements of its fins, it will then position itself, and it is only when the unwary interlopers enter its field of attack that it lunges forwards, this time relying on sight, like a submarine missile. The position of its fins, dorsal, anal and caudal, all grouped closely together at the end of its elongated body, acts like the feathers at the end of a deadly arrow and makes possible the lightning propulsion that rarely misses its target. However, if its attack proves unsuccessful. the pike does not pursue its prey - unless that prey is wounded and swims very slowly - but returns to its post and wait a for a new opportunity. The angler needs to adapt his techniques to this behaviour, retrieving his lures or dead bait as slowly as possible, using livebait or a similar lure, through some spot that is known to harbour a good specimen, and imitating the movements of a wounded fish struggling near the bottom or between two currents of water.