Chain pickerel are members of the pike family. They are found along the Atlantic coast from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia south to Florida. The Mississippi River drainage from the Gulf Coast as far north as Illinois and Indiana, and the Gulf drainages as far west as the Sabine and Red rivers in Texas are also home for pickerel. Weed beds, sunken stumps, and logs in natural lakes, ponds, and manmade impoundments, along with sluggish parts of clear streams are ideal habitat.
Chain pickerel have a distinctive chain-like pattern along its side. Coloration is a dark green/brownish back, fading to green on the sides and a cream underside. Cheeks and gill covers are fully scaled, with few, if any scales on the top of the head. Bodies are long and torpedo shaped. Pickerel seldom exceed a couple feet and a few pounds. The world record is over nine pounds.
Once the water temperature nears 50 degrees Fahrenheit Chain Pickerel spawn over submerged vegetation or structure. Females up to 50,000 eggs in adhesive ribbon-like mass that attach to the vegetation. No parental care is given. Once hatched, fry attach themselves to vegetation while they absorb the yolk sac.
Young pickerel feed primarily on aquatic insects and crustaceans. As size increases, fish become the mainstay of their diet. Chain pickerel are solitary predators. As sight feeders they are most active during the day.
Chain Pickerel in Florida
Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Appearance: Chain pickerel are deep olive-green on the back, shading to a creamy yellow on the belly, with the back and anal fin about the same size and located far back on an elongated body. A distinct black chain-like or interwoven marking on the sides give them their name.
Habitat: Found statewide, normally in vegetated lakes, swamps and backwaters of small to large rivers.
Behavior: Spawning occurs in late winter to spring among heavy aquatic weed growth or flooded grasses, in water from a few inches deep to several feet deep. Large number of adhesive eggs are scattered over vegetation.
State Record: 5.75 lbs. Big Catch: 27 inches or 4 lbs.
Fishing Tips and Facts: Chain pickerel are often encountered by bass anglers, especially while plug casting. They are good fighters, especially on light tackle. Productive lures include spinnerbaits, weedless spoons, surface plugs, crankbaits and jigs. Minnows are a reliable year-round bait. The white, flaky meat is good tasting, but quite bony.