Chain Pickerel
Typical Size
11-14" (1/2 - 1 lb.)
Decent Size
14-18" (1-2 lbs.)
Nice Size
19-22" (3-4 lbs.)
29.4" (9 lbs. 6 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

4-1/2 lbs.
Genus/Species Esox niger
Common Names eastern pickerel, green pike, grass pickerel, water wolf, mud pickerel
Hot Spots Gunners Pond, Monponsett Pond, Schubells Lake
Best Time Year-Round
Best Baits minnows, swimming plugs, soft plastics
Best Method Live bait fishing, plugging

Chain pickerel are easily distinguished by the dark chainlike pattern on their sides. This chainlike pattern is set upon an olive green back and yellowish to light green sides. This pattern is only on their sides - the underbelly is pale, almost white. It is a rather elongate slender-bodied fish with small scales and a long snout like head with a dark vertical bar under the eye. It has a dorsal fin set way in the back with a corresponding anal fin directly below it. The mouth contains extremely sharp needle-like teeth that can cause injury when handled carelessly.

Chain Pickerel
Pickerel have needle sharp teeth - handle with care.
Chain pickerel live in shallow, weedy areas of lakes, ponds, impoundments, and slow-moving rivers. Chain pickerel can tolerate a wide range of conditions including low oxygen, thick vegetation, poor water quality, very shallow water, and wide temperature swings. They are extremely agressive apex predators and unlike many fish, feed actively throughout the year. They prey heavily upon other fish, including their own, and will attack fish bigger than they are. The eat substantial numbers of young fish including minnows, perch, sunfish, and bass. They are a solitary fish, not known to school together in any kind of numbers.

Chain pickerel range east of the Mississippi River from Nova Scotia to Florida. Although they have been introduced elsewhere, they are not commonly transplanted. Indigineous to the south shore of Massachusetts, chain pickerel can be found in most freshwater bodies of water. They are easily found close to shore during the spring through the fall but tend to move to the deeper water in the winter.

Pickerel spawn in late March and April with little fanfare. The female simply deposits her eggs in ribbon-like masses along vegetation growth and if a male pickerel fertilizes them, about 50,000 little pickerel fry will hatch. These little guys are on their own too, since neither the female or male pickerel guards the eggs or fry. In fact, pickerel will eat their young if given the chance. It has been written that pickerel do not become sexually mature until their fourth year when they are between 15 and 17 inches long.

Fishing for pickerel is simply flat-out fun. Regardless of the size of fish, this speedy demon hits ferociously and fights you every step of the way. Extremely aggressive, pickerel will greedily take many different kinds of bait and artificial lures with reckless abandon. Live shiners are probably the best bait, but they will also take baits such as crayfish, frogs, and even nightcrawlers. The same live bait rig used for largemouth bass will work well for pickerel too. The key is to get you minnow close enough to thick vegetation without having it bury itself.

The best method for taking pickerel is by using artificial lures. This is because the areas that chain pickerel inhabit are usually choked with weed and difficult to control a bait in. Personally, I prefer inexpensive lures like soft plastic grubs and worms, pitched and twitched among the vegetation. A weedless rubber worm rig works well, but you should use small worms in the 4-6" size, rather than what you would normally use for largemouth bass. Of course, even saying all this, it is important to note that spinners, swimming plugs, jigs, and spoons can be just as effective. I've caught quite a few pickerel in my day trolling swimming plugs and pitching jigs near weedlines to know that if you are near chain pickerel, and they see your offering, they will attack it. Pickerel lie in wait (typically under vegetation) and then pounce on their prey when it swims by, only deciding afterwards if it is food or not.

Fishing for chain pickerel is an extremely important recreational fishery that, along with bass and trout, count largely toward the amount of fishing licensse sold. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, we are blessed with large numbers of excellent pickerel-producing ponds. An extremely bony fish, few pickerel are eaten, however they are edible. Considering the mercury warnings of freshwater fish in general, I would not recommend consuming this species.