Chain Pickerel are not typically thought of as a popular game fish to catch, but this often-overlooked species can be an exciting challenge. They tend to put up a good fight and are known to be surprisingly tasty, which makes it all the more rewarding to snag a monster.
If you’re going after this species, you came to the right place. In this guide, we will cover how to identify pickerel, where to catch them, their seasonal patterns, the equipment you need and give a few additional tips to help you catch more pickerel.
Chain pickerel are a member of the pike family. They have greenish colored sides and bodies that somewhat resemble a northern pike. They feature scaled cheeks and gill covers, while northern pike usually does not have scales on the bottom part of the gill cover.
The average pickerel you will catch will weigh under 2lbs, though they can grow much larger. Larger pickerel can reach up to 30 inches in length with the world record pickerel weighing a whopping 9 lbs and 6 ounces.
Where to Catch Pickerel?
Pickerel can be found all over the eastern half of the United States and Canada. They tend to prefer warmer waters in the higher 70’s. Fish for them in clear ponds, slow-moving streams, weedy lakes, and reservoirs.
Fish areas where the water is less than 10 feet deep because they prefer shallower waters. They will move deeper though when the temperature becomes very hot. When temperatures cool, they can be found near weed beds.
What do Pickerel Eat?
Chain pickerel have a varied diet and are known to commonly eat smaller fish, crayfish, mice, worms, frogs, and a wide variety of other foods depending on the area they are in.
Pickerel Seasonal Patterns
Autumn can be an excellent time for fishing pickerel as their feeding activity increases before winter. Look for them from the shoreline around weed beds in less than 10 feet of water. They can often be found in slower grassy river areas.
In winter look for the weeds to find pickerel. Set your lines at about 1 foot above the weed beds. Pickerel are known to patrol just above the weed lines, so this is the depth you will want to keep your bait at. Fish near weedy creek mouths and you are sure to find pickerel. Ice fishing pickerel can be very productive if you fish the right areas.
In early springtime, you can find pickerel near the shoreline. Look for grassy vegetation that is full of baitfish. Here you will find the pickerel feeding and getting ready to spawn. When the temperatures reach around 50 degrees Fahrenheit the pickerel will begin to spawn. They attach their eggs to vegetation and structure in shallow weedy bays.
When the water temperature heats up in the summer smaller pickerel will remain in the shallows next to lily pads and grassy areas near shorelines. Larger chain pickerel tend to move into deep waters with structure. Fish for them deep outside weed edges 12 to 15 feet deep.
Best Time to Catch Pickerel
Early spring is a great season for fishing pickerel because they will be aggressively feeding as they prepare to spawn. The best time of day to catch chain pickerel is the first few hours of morning or sunset. They will be much easier to catch if you fish these times.
Pickerel Fishing Equipment Recommendations
Rods and Reels
Since pickerel are caught in the shallows, a good spinning rod and reel will work fine for most situations. You typically don’t have to cast very far so a 5 to 5 ½ foot ultralight or light rod is a good choice. Just make sure your rod has a good amount of sensitivity.
Fly fishing for pickerel isn’t very popular, but it can be surprisingly effective. Use a 7 or 8 weight rod around 8 to 9 feet in length.
Lures and Baits
Topwater lures can work well for fishing shallow areas if the water is gloomy or there is a little bit of wind. Not to mention topwater fishing is one of the more exciting ways to fish. If the water is clear, topwater action might actually spook pickerel away. So try not to use them in clear water in perfect weather.
A good 3 to 5-inch minnow lure can be another good choice. Pickerel love minnows, so a lure with a good lifelike action is sure to get bites.
When fishing clearer waters a spinnerbait can be a great option. The flash and vibration of the blades can be irresistible to these fish who use sight to locate food.
Spoons are a tried and true pickerel lure. Just make sure your spoon has a weedless design since pickerel love to stay near vegetation. The flash and wobble can be irresistible to a hunting pickerel.
As every angler knows, sometimes live bait just tends to work best. Live minnows are one of your best options for catching pickerel.
For pickerel a 4 to 10-pound monofilament line is a good choice. Pickerel are known to aggressively chew through line though, so you will probably want to use a heavier monofilament, fluorocarbon, or wire leader to prevent line chews. Something around 20-pound-test should do the job.
For hook size stick with something around #2, #1, or 1/0. Aberdeen hooks are a good choice.
Tips for Catching Pickerel
Look for the Weeds
Pickerel tend to ambush feed. They prefer to use the weeds to hideout and attack their prey from the cover. That’s why you need to fish near the vegetation if you’re fishing pickerel. Keep your presentation about 1 foot above the weeds is a good depth for getting serious action.
Set your Hook with Speed
Pickerel will often strike surprisingly fast. Since their teeth are so sharp, you need to set your hook before they have an opportunity to chew through your line. Keep the line tight and use a short flick of your wrist as soon as you feel a strike.
Fish in Daylight
Pickerel aren’t often actively feeding in the nighttime so it’s best to stick to times when the sun is out. Early morning can be a great option but they will also bite pretty regularly any time of the day.