Fish Details: Chain Pickerel (Esox niger)



The traditional chain sample and darkish bar beneath the attention are good methods to determine the chain pickerel.
Picture courtesy NYS DEC through CC 2.0

Northern pike is taken into account one of many premier big-game targets for fly fishers, however they are often powerful to search out and catch and dwell principally in northern waters.

Chain pickerel are typically smaller, however they’re much extra widespread within the Japanese half of the U.S. and supply very related motion—displaying a willingness to chase down flies and destroy them with reckless abandon.

There are few issues extra thrilling in heat water fly fishing than watching the v-wake of a fish shoot out of a weed mattress to intercept your topwater sample, and the affect is normally splashy and violent. Simply be sure that your terminal deal with is rigged to take care of the species’ sharp tooth, which pose a hazard to the particular person making an attempt to take away the hook, as properly.

Pickerels and Pikes

Chain pickerel are members of the Esox genus, which incorporates the pikes, muskellunge, and two different pickerels—grass pickerel (Esox americanus vermiculatus) and redfin pickerel (Esox americanus americanus)—that are associated subspecies of American pickerel (Esox americanus).

Chain pickerels usually inhabit the identical waters as different pickerels and pikes, however they’re normally straightforward to determine by the distinctive chain sample alongside the physique, in addition to colours which are a lot lighter than these of a pike. Each American pickerels have darkish bands alongside the perimeters, and the redfin pickerels have, as you may think, purple fins.

As essentially the most widespread of the pickerels, chain pickerel have acquired a bunch of nicknames, together with “federation pike,” “southern pike,” and “grass pike,” all of which serve to confuse the pickerel with its bigger cousin. Within the south, pickerel are sometimes known as “jacks” or “jack fish.”

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Chain pickerel will be discovered from the deep south to Maine, and in some Midwestern waters.
map by USGS

Vary and Conduct

The native vary of the chain pickerel extends alongside the Atlantic Slope, from southwestern Maine to southern Florida and west alongside the Gulf of Mexico to excessive Japanese Texas.

Within the south, the species inhabited the Mississippi River Basin as far north as Missouri. Introductions of chain pickerel have prolonged this vary as far north as Brunswick and west to the decrease Nice Lakes and so far as Colorado, however it’s nonetheless a predominantly Japanese species.

Chain pickerel inhabit weedy areas of lakes, swamps, and slow-moving sections of rivers, they usually’ll additionally maintain close to different kinds of constructions that present cowl for his or her ambush-style searching. In the course of the warmest a part of the 12 months, they could abandon weed beds for deeper water, very like pike.

Pickerel can tolerate heat water (preferring 75 to 80 levels), in addition to excessive acidity and even salinity. The truth is, chain pickerel have been recognized to enter brackish water in winter.

Pickerel are solitary fish, searching by sight, and barely journey far for meals. As a substitute, you’ll normally discover them hiding in aquatic vegetation, holding immobile till they ambush their prey.

The flexibility to go from 0 to 60 within the blink of an eye fixed is what makes them such profitable predators, they usually safe their prey with their needle-like tooth. Though smaller pike will eat invertebrates, and may even be seen leaping after flying bugs, they quickly flip their consideration to smaller fish, frogs, crayfish, and even mice.

This pickerel ate a streamer on a really quick retrieve in a Vermont lake.
Picture by Maria Cunningham

Spawning happens in early spring when water temperatures hit about 50 levels. The feminine deposits the eggs in ribbon-like strips that adhere to the submerged construction.

She doesn’t construct a nest, nor does she stick with the eggs. After hatching, pickerel develop rapidly, reaching 14 inches by their third 12 months. Chain pickerel turn out to be sexually mature after 4 years when they’re normally 15 to 17 inches lengthy.

Data and Trophies

Though chain pickerel are well-liked sport fish all through their vary, they’re prized extra for his or her aggression than for his or her dimension. In most locations, a pickerel over 20 inches is taken into account a good fish, and catching one over 5 kilos is one thing value crowing about.

The world-record chain pickerel was a 9-pound, 6-ounce fish caught in 1961 in Homerville, Georgia, by an angler with the implausible identify Baxley McQuaig Jr. (By comparability, the world report pike weighed simply over 55 kilos, and the most important grass and redfin pickerel had been 1 pound and a couple of kilos, 4 ounces, respectively.)

Most chain pickerel fall within the 1- to 3-pound vary, they usually struggle arduous earlier than coming handy. The All-Deal with Size Fly world report–caught simply final February on Maryland’s Severin River–was just below 21 inches.

Flies and Ways
Chain pickerel are ambush predators, normally holding tight to constructions or in weed beds and going through outward, towards deeper water, ready for prey to swim by. Topwater flies that transfer quite a lot of water will be very efficient, and watching a pickerel destroy a fly on the floor is an thrilling visible expertise.

Skilled anglers don’t set the hook on the strike, nevertheless, as pickerel usually both miss the fly or smack it with out getting hooked. In these instances, the fish will usually flip and assault a second time. Subsurface patterns ought to imitate baitfish, and flies with erratic motion and rattles will draw extra strikes.Efficient topwater flies embody Dahlberg Divers, Foam Divers, or Gurglers, whereas subsurface bait patterns resembling Deceivers, Rattlin’ Baitfish, Bendbacks, and Pike Bunnies will draw strikes.

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