Esox lucius (Northern pike)

Northern Pike vs Tiger Muskie: Know the Difference

Washington State now has both northern pike and tiger muskies inhabiting public waters. Both fish are “esocids”, which means they are members of the esocidae family. Other members of that family include muskellunge (true muskie) and pickerel. All share a similar, long body shape, oval in cross-section (hence the name “pike”, meaning spear or lance-shaped) and have a large duck-bill mouth with big teeth and a dorsal fin located near the tail fin.

Northern pike in Washington are the result of downstream movement of illegally stocked fish in other states (the Pend Oreille River from the Clark Fork and Flathead River systems in Montana and the Spokane River from Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho) or direct illegal stocking into a lake (Newman and Liberty Lakes in Spokane County). Tiger muskies in Washington are brought into the state by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) as a unique game fish opportunity. Unlike northern pike, which are prolific spawners, tiger muskies are the sterile result of a cross between a true muskie and a northern pike. Because northern pike are prolific spawners, their numbers cannot be controlled in a predictable manner, but because tiger muskies are functionally sterile, their numbers and density in the waters in which they are stocked, can be precisely controlled. The WDFW stocks tiger muskies into seven lakes in the state: Mayfield Lake (Lewis Co.), Merwin Reservoir (Cowlitz Co.), Lake Tapps (Pierce Co.), Evergreen Reservoir (Grant Co.), Silver Lake and Newman Lake (Spokane Co.) and Curlew Lake (Ferry Co.). Tiger muskies are managed as a game fish and have a minimum size limit of 50 inches and a daily bag limit of one fish. Northern pike are classified as a prohibited species and have non-minimum size limit or daily bag limit. Prohibited species must be dead before leaving the water in which they were caught. They may be returned alive only into the water in which they were caught.

It is your responsibility to know the difference between northern pike and tiger muskies and to abide by the state laws that regulate them. It is always illegal to transport any live fish without a fish transport permit or to move live fish from one public or private water to another. Illegal stocking causes both biological and economic damage and costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in tax payer money to remove illegally stocked fish.

The current known distribution of northern pike in Washington is:

  • The Pend Oreille River (including Box Canyon Reservoir and Boundary Reservoir) from the Idaho state line to the confluence with the Columbia River and downstream in the main stem of the Columbia River to just upstream of Kettle Falls.
  • The Spokane River from the Idaho state line into Long Lake, a.k.a Lake Spokane.
  • Newman Lake in Spokane County.
  • Liberty Lake in Spokane County.

If you capture a northern pike in any other water in Washington, please kill it and take an identifying picture if you have a camera. After that, please contact the nearest WDFW office and ask for the Area or District Fish Biologist.


  Northern Pike
Northern Pike - click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge
  Northern pike display horizontal rows of light-colored round to oval spots on a dark background.
  Tiger Muskie
Tiger Muskie - click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge
  Tiger muskie display irregular shaped dark colored vertical markings on a light background. Sides sometimes have alternating patterns of bars and spots on a light background but patterns NEVER resemble the spots of a Northern pike.
  Juvenile Northern Pike
Juvenile Northern Pike - click on image to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge
  Juvenile Northern pike show their light and dark, oblique solid bars which extend from a white belly.