While pick and walleye are often referred to interchangeably, there are some pretty fundamental differences between walleye and pike. It is easy to get confused; pike and walleye can look alike at first glance, but they are not actually related. Walleye is part of the Percidae (Perch) family and pike are part of the Esocidae (Pike) family.
The confusion is not helped by lax vernacular labelling. Even some of the most experienced angers will often simply use the term ‘pike’ broadly to refer to both fish based on their minor similarities, like the fact they are both freshwater fish found in North America that have sharp teeth.
On the whole, walleye and pike differences far outweigh their similarities and the differences are fairly easy to spot – especially when you know what you are looking for.
Here are the most obvious and important walleye and pike differences.
The colour of walleye is primarily olive and gold. Pike are greenish with some yellow.
Walleye can grow to be 75 cm long and about 15lbs. Pike are not as big as walleye, generally speaking. They tend to be about 61 cm long and weigh in at about 3lbs. However, there are several branches on the pike family tree and while the biggest chain pike will tap out at about 100 cm (the most common catch is about 1 or 2lbs) Northern pike (also called Jack Fish) can weigh in at 60lbs or more.
Other Distinguishing Physical Characteristics:
The walleye’s name comes from its unique eyes, which reflect light, much like a cat’s. Walleye can see in darker and murkier waters because of how well the fish’s eyes can gather light. This light-catching super power allows walleye to gather in deeper waters, where they also enjoy cooler temperatures. Walleye also have a top fin (dorsal) separated into 2 sections. The first is hard and spiny and the second part is softer. Walleye are rounder in shape than pike and have canine teeth and forked tails.
The pike is shaped more like a missile and has chain-link markings to help it camouflage itself. Pike are known for their tell-tale tear markings below each eye as well as their long snout. Unlike walleye, the pike’s rear fin is located further back on its body, close to its tail.
Walleye are easiest to catch around dusk and dawn, which is usually when they feed the most. During these times the water is turbid, which allows the keen-eyed walleye to capitalize on dim sighted fish.
Pike feed just about any time, but since their eyesight is not as crisp as walleye, most anglers report the best pike fishing between 9am – 4pm and during a bright, full moon. Pike catch their prey in their sharp teeth by lunging powerfully. They have even been known to jump out of the water to catch flies and even dangling objects like lures. Unlike walleye which move around looking for prey, pike tend to sit and wait to attack.
Walleye feed on sunfish, bass and perch, primarily while pike like frogs, bugs, crayfish, snakes and other smaller fish. You’ll notice that despite the fact the walleye is bigger than most pike, it tends to go for smaller prey.
One common characteristic between both fish is their preference for winter feeding, which makes them a popular pick among ice fishing enthusiasts.
Walleye and pike differences extend to where you’ll find them. While both are native to freshwater lakes in the northern hemisphere, you’ll find walleye and pike tend to inhabit different areas of lakes and rivers.
Walleye like cool deep water with relatively clean bottoms (gravel, rock, sand, etc) while pike prefer habitats where they can hide to ambush their prey (weed beds, stumps, swampy areas, etc). Walleye tend to steer clear of water 10 feet deep or less and pike prefer the shallow water.
For anglers who fish for food, perhaps the most important of walleye and pike differences comes down to taste. While walleye are considered a tasty freshwater fish to eat, pike are thought of as ‘trash fish’ and while edible, they are not often sought out for eat.