Northern pike in southern Lake Michigan: Some surprises in where they are

Mike Jarvis’ surprise catch of a big northern pike leads to an examination of where they have been seen, other than harbors.

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Mike Jarvis caught a northern pike in open water outside of Navy Pier. Provided photo

Mike Jarvis caught a northern pike in open water outside of Navy Pier.

Provided

Northern pike spiced lakefront fishing for decades, particularly in harbors with good aquatic vegetation, as Lake Michigan cleared.

Last week, Ryan Whitacre and Mike Jarvis had a surprise. Jarvis caught a fat 37-inch pike outside of Navy Pier on a Zoom Baby Brush Hog.

“First one either of us have seen outside of a harbor,” Whitacre texted.

That intrigued me.

“I never heard of anyone catching [a pike] offshore while trolling for salmon,” said Capt. Ralph Steiger, who fishes year-round around Chicago and Indiana. “We did catch a 40-incher at the Amoco discharge and two [casting for Chinook] in [Indiana’s] Ship Canal.”

“I’ve never heard of any being caught offshore,” said Capt. Bob Poteshman, who has operated out of North Point Marina, Chicago and Indiana for decades. “And I have caught none [off-shore].

“No. [But] I caught one trolling inside the Port of Indiana back in the 1980’s when my Dad had his boat in Burns Ditch,” emailed Capt. Scott Wolfe, who operates out of Waukegan.

All three have caught other surprises—largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, whitefish, perch and catfish—while fishing southern Lake Michigan for salmon and trout.

“It does not really surprise me that anglers would catch a northern outside of the harbors,” emailed Vic Santucci, Illinois’ Lake Michigan program manager. “If these were bass anglers I am guessing they were targeting one of the break walls or some other structure that also could hold an occasional pike. While primarily ambush predators that favor submersed or emergent aquatic plants and woody structure for cover, pike are known to travel good distances in rivers seasonally, especially when seeking wetlands during the early spring spawning season.

“A pike wondering around outside of the protection of harbors to forage for prey fish (perhaps alewives or gizzard shad) or moving to other habitats (e.g., rivers or other protected areas) does not seem too far out of normal movement patterns for this species.”

Santucci checked with biologist Dan Makauskas on offshore surveys and emailed, “Dan said he does remember catching one pike in our spring predator/prey assessment and one in fall trout sampling out by the reefs. Neither was an exceptionally large fish. So while not common, pike have been sampled offshore outside of the harbors.”

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