Chain pickerel are a nuisance. A minimum of that’s how quite a lot of bass anglers consider them. All through their enormous vary, pickerel share most of the identical waters as largemouth and smallmouth bass and are sometimes extra aggressive about smacking a lure. Because of this, from Southeastern Canada to Florida, west to Japanese Texas, and northeastward to southern Michigan, yow will discover loads of bass anglers ticked off that their crankbait meant for a giant smallie received clipped off by a pickerel’s enamel, or that they destroyed a whole bag of sentimental plastics meant for hog largemouths. Properly, I get it, however I say the chain pickerel doesn’t get sufficient respect as a gamefish in its personal proper—and that should you haven’t already, you must get into pickerel fishing.

Chains are one among my favourite fish to focus on, and so they have been since I used to be a child. Why? As a result of they had been accessible. The place I grew up, glamourous members of the Esox household like northern pike and muskies weren’t available. They existed in pockets and would have required my dad to make a particular journey with particular gear to catch them. In the meantime, I might journey my bike to 5 creeks and ponds that held chain pickerel, and I might hook them with easy lures and the identical mild rod I used for trout and bass. Odds are, you have got comparable pickerel fishing alternatives not removed from residence, too.

What I discovered through the years is that they exihibit most of the identical behavoirs—and supply most of the identical thrills—as pike and muskies. Sure, they’re smaller, however with the proper sort out and proper angle, chain pickerel can present hours of enjoyable year-round, in addition to a problem, as a result of massive ones aren’t simple to idiot. So, whether or not you want motivation to concentrate to those missed fish or are looking to your first one near residence, right here’s the whole lot you have to know to get in on some nice pickerel fishing motion.

Pickerel Fishing 101: Establish Your Goal

The flanks of chain pickerel have markings that look a bit of like chain hyperlinks. All pickerel have the distinctive darkish slash below the attention. Joe Cermele

Most individuals consider the chain pickerel as a bit of cousin of the pike and muskie, and subsequently, the smallest member of the Esox household. However that’s not correct. There are literally three species of pickerel dwelling within the U.S., the opposite two being redfin pickerel and  grass pickerel. These species share the vary of the chain pickerel, so there’s a robust risk you’ve caught one whereas focusing on chains. Whereas there are actually bodily variations between the species, it’s doubtless you have got mistaken a redfin or grass pickerel juvenile chain pickerel, as a result of what units the three aside greater than something is measurement.

Redfin and grass pickerel hardly ever exceed 12 inches in size. Chain pickerel routinely exceed 24 inches, with the all-tackle world document weighing 9 kilos, 6 ounces, caught again in 1961. The chain pickerel will get its identify from the distinct sample on its flanks that resembles interlinked chainmail such as you’d see on a medieval go well with of armor. Grass and redfin pickerel, in the meantime, have damaged, vertical barring on their flanks, although at their small sizes, it might simply be confused with a series pickerel that hasn’t absolutely developed its sample but, which is widespread in younger chains. Redfins do, in actual fact, have purple fins, however what all three species share is a darkish vertical slash operating from their eye to the underside of their jaw. No matter measurement, pickerels keep this slash, and it’s the surest method to differentiate between them and juvenile pike and muskies once they share the identical waters.

Pickerel Fishing 101: Habits and Habitat

photo showing a chain pickerel in weedy cover
Chain pickerel want weedy cowl through which to hunt and spawn. Getty Photos

Chain pickerel are probably the most freshwater adaptable fish within the U.S. They’ll tolerate a variety of water temperatures and oxygen ranges. They thrive in sprawling shallow marshes, creeks, massive rivers, farm ponds, and large, deep lakes. If there may be one key consider figuring out the presence of pickerel in any given physique of water, it’s vegetation, which pickerel want with a purpose to hunt and spawn. It may be milfoil, lily pads, flooded reeds, or no matter, so long as it supplies cowl and ambush alternatives. What’s additionally essential to pickerel is entry to deep water.

A complete inhabitants of pickerel can dwell in a system with a mean depth of two toes or much less, however you’re much less more likely to discover trophy fish right here if there’s no entry to considerably deeper water or at the very least a deeper channel operating by means of the flats. Pickerel are very inclined to stunting, which implies if there may be an excessive amount of competitors for a restricted meals provide in a closed system, their skill to succeed in trophy measurement can be hindered. I do know dozens of locations the place I can catch upwards of 20 pickerel a day, nevertheless it’s uncommon to catch a big one in any of them. So, should you’re after heavy hitters, you usually should persuade your self to forgo numbers and give attention to deeper areas.

Pickerel are predators, and a part of what makes them so gratifying is that all year long, they’re prepared and aggressive. Within the coldest months when bass and crappies are sluggish, pickerel will nonetheless run up and hammer a jerkbait. Underneath the ice, they usually assault a shiner on a tip-up sooner than a walleye. Within the warmth of summer time, they’ll maintain in shallow water and crush a Spook or frog twitched alongside the floor.

Gearing Up for Chain Pickerel

The truth that pickerel are so aggressive year-round makes for enjoyable fishing, after all, however the actual trick to getting most enjoyment out of catching a bunch of those fish is utilizing the proper sort out. So right here’s what to go together with.

Finest Rods and Reels for Pickerel Fishing

photo or spinning reel for targeting pickerel
Bass Professional Outlets

Chances are high you already personal the right rod and reel combo for chain pickerel. I like a medium-size spinning reel with 7-foot, medium-light rod with a quick motion, as I would like it to have a bit of spine to set the hook and deal with giant fish, however extra importantly, I would like it to have the ability to ship a variety of lure weights successfully. It’s not unusual to modify from a really small, mild jerkbait in a single space to a heavy swimbait on a jighead in one other. You wish to make certain you may forged far sufficient to cowl loads of water even with lighter lures.

Finest Fishing Line for Pickerel Fishing

Going with a lightweight line may even assist in relation to casting a wide range of lures far sufficient to cowl water. When you favor monofilament, 6-pound check is ideal. I usually favor braided line and spool up with hair-thin 10-pound-test. When you’re utilizing braided line, you’ll wish to add a size of 10- or 12-pound fluorocarbon chief to the tip earlier than tying on a lure.

Wire Leaders for Pickerel Fishing

photo of wire leader material for targeting pickerel
Tie-able wire chief materials made by Cortland. Cortland

Some of the widespread questions I get about pickerel fishing is whether or not it’s best to use a wire chief as chunk safety from their sharp enamel. The reply depends upon what you’re casting. Wire can, in spite of everything, mute the motion of some lures, so it’s vital to contemplate how a pickerel assault totally different lure kinds.

I’d be much less doubtless to make use of wire if I’m casting a tough jerkbait with a number of treble hooks, for instance, as a result of a pickerel isn’t doubtless inhale that bait to this point that my chief will find yourself in its mouth. It’s extra more likely to T-bone this fashion of lure, and the size and hardness of the bait itself will function chunk safety. Likewise, longer spoons and spinners with treble hooks within the rear will put sufficient distance between the lure and chief that more often than not you received’t get bitten off.

Alternatively, any time I’m utilizing delicate plastics, I at all times add an 8- to 10-inch size of 10- or 15-pound tie-able chunk wire to the tip of my chief. A Zoom Tremendous Fluke is one among my all-time favourite pickerel baits, however provided that they’re delicate and pliable, pickerel are likely to inhale them utterly. Likewise with small swimbait or curly-tail grub. Utilizing a brief piece of wire can be sensible if focusing on pickerel with dwell shiners.

The right way to Catch Chain Pickerel All Yr

photo of angler pickerel fishing
A pleasant chain pickerel taken on a tough jerkbait. Joe Cermele

Pickerel places usually change little or no all year long. What does change, nonetheless, is their willingness to hunt in shallow water. There are some refined variations in the place they feed and place from season to season, so understanding them will enable you residence in in your native inhabitants everytime you exit.


Chain pickerel spawn in very early spring, making this finest time of 12 months for catching massive fish at peak weight. As soon as the water temperature jumps into the mid- to excessive 40s, prespawn pickerel will start to feed closely. Realizing that smaller forage fish will gravitate to shallow water for heat and safety, it’s time to give attention to flats alongside channel edges or inside coves. Even with no recent vegetation within the space, the large women are searching for larger meals and can ambush in depressions, round wooden, or alongside drop-off edges operating alongside the the flats.

Summer time

Throughout the scorching months, pickerel gravitate to shallow, vegetated flats to feed. Areas with loads of lily pads are prime, and it’s best to goal any breaks, holes, or gaps inside these pads. Small pickerel will grasp within the shallows all day, but when there are massive fish within the system, they usually go skinny just for a meal. Low-light intervals at nightfall and daybreak are prime for locating giants on the flats, and a certain method to inform there’s massive fish round is that if the little ones all of the sudden cease biting. At noon, give attention to channels, troughs, or drop-offs close to these flats, because it’s in these transition zones the place the large fish will maintain till they slide shallow to hunt.


Pickerel will transfer backwards and forwards between deep water and the flats of their summertime sample till the water cools considerably. Even then, they nonetheless could hunt within the shallows, nevertheless it’s usually for a brief window, normally late within the day when the water is at its warmest. As the times get shorter and the nights develop cooler, focus your efforts on channel edges near flats or the transition zone between flat and deep water in coves in bigger lakes.


Throughout the winter, pickerel spend most of their time in deeper water, although relying on the place you reside, they’ll feed shallow for a portion of the day if the temperatures and situations are gentle. In bigger our bodies of water, pickerel will search vegetation like milfoil within the depths. Even when that vegetation is brown and dying, they’ll nonetheless use it to ambush prey. In methods the place the weeds die off totally, search for uncovered wooden and rock round deeper areas, as these kind of exhausting construction will retain warmth, usually making the world round them barely hotter.

Pickerel Fishing: Prime Lures

Pickerel will smack all kinds of baits. Listed here are the highest decisions and fish them.

Laborious Jerkbaits

photo of a Rapala Floating Minnow
Rapala’s Authentic Floating Minnow. Bass Professional Outlets

Floating and suspending jerkbaits just like the Rapala X-Rap or Authentic Floating Minnow is a good way to take pickerel year-round. Within the hotter months, work these lures aggressively, making them dart wildly to attract the eye of energetic fish. When the water’s colder, decelerate and impart refined twitches between lengthy pauses. Don’t be shocked if the hit comes when the lure isn’t transferring.

In-Line Spinners

photo of in-line spinner for pickerel fishing
The well-known Mepps Aglia. Bass Professional Outlets

Spinners the like basic Mepps Aglia are extremely productive for pickerel, particularly in spring and fall when there’s much less vegetation to snag. Spinners can’t be paused and finessed like different lures, in order that they work finest when pickerel are very energetic and prepared to cowl distance to eat.

Gentle-Plastic Jerkbaits

photo of Zoom Super Fluke soft jerkbait
A Zoom Tremendous Fluke delicate jerkbait. Bass Professional Outlets

There’s no scarcity of soft-plastic jerkbaits available on the market that’ll take pickerel, however my go-to is the Zoom Tremendous Fluke. Rigged on a weedless wide-gap hook, you will get this bait darting and jiving by means of heavy weeds. You possibly can come over logs and thru lily pads with out getting hung up, and you may work a Fluke at nearly any pace, making them a good selection year-round.

Strolling Topwaters

photo of topwater bait for pickerel fishing
The Heddon Zara Spook Pet. Bass Professional Outlets

Topwaters just like the Heddon Zara Spook Pet are killers within the summertime. They’re not weedless, so you may’t toss them into the pads, however they’re nice for throwing in open water with submerged weeds or wooden. The loud clacking sound they make attracts heavy hitters out of the salad, and the takes are explosive.

Gentle-Plastic Swimbaits

photo of swimbait for pickerel fishing
A YUM Pulse delicate jerkbait. Bass Professional Outlets

A paddle-tail swimbait rigged on a jighead is not going to solely crush pickerel, however is extraordinarily versatile. Within the winter, I’ll droop one below a bobber and slowly work it again with quick twitches and loads of lengthy pauses. In hotter months, the vibration produced by the tail throughout a gentle retrieve pulls hungry chains in for a chunk. There are many good swimbaits to select from, however the YUM Pulse has at all times been a favourite of mine.

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