Have Small Northern Pike Taken Over in Serpent Lake?

By Bob Hoeft

Have small northern pike, under 24 inches, taken over in Serpent Lake?  I believe the answer to this is “Yes”, based upon my own fishing experience the past two summers.  Fishing deliberately for Northern Pike with family and friends last year we caught only two over 24 inches, and this summer only one of 24 inches.  4 years ago we caught at least 5 over 24 inches, from 27 to 30 inches.  Why has this happened?

It happens because typically large Northern Pike are kept by anglers, while small Northern Pike are returned to the lake.  Northern Pike are at the top of the food chain and the only fish that will eat a small Northern Pike is a larger Northern Pike.  When all of the large Northern Pike are removed from the lake there is nothing to prey on smaller Northern Pike and the lake is over run with small ones.

In 2004 and 2005 the Serpent Lake Association and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources installed a barrier at Peterson Creek to prevent Northern Pike from accessing a major spawning site in Peterson Lake.  It was maintained by volunteers from the Association.  There is strong evidence that this action helped to spur the growth of Northern Pike, while limiting their numbers.  Netting by the DNR in 2008 produced 4 times as many from 25 to 29 inches in 2008, compared to 2002.  This project was discontinued because of vandalism to the barrier, but it does support the idea that keeping smaller Northern Pike out of the lake gives a significant boost to the average size.

While it is unlikely that such a project could be reinstituted at this time, it is to  the advantage of the Serpent Lake fishery to control small Northern Pike.  The more small Northern Pike prevail in the lake, the less stocked walleyes will survive due to lack of forage and the fingerling walleyes becoming forage for the Northern Pike.  I have wondered, too, if the lack of small sunfish is due to the foraging of the small Pike.

So, what can be done to stop this cycle of small Northern Pike dominating the lake?

  1. Do not return Northern Pike under 24 inches to the lake, no matter how small. Return all Northern Pike over 24 inches to the lake. (Certainly counter intuitive) A sign exists at each landing encouraging anglers to do just this.
  2. Learn how to fillet Northern Pike removing all of the bones.  Many sites exist on the internet demonstrating how to do this.  I have filleted and deboned many, fried many, given away many.  They are always well received and appreciated.

Enjoy the lake, keep fishing, keep the small ones, throw the big ones back and remember, if you take the time Northern Pike are tasty and delicious.

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