Game Fishing > Pike Family, Esocidae > Eastern Pickerel

Eastern Pickerel

Eastern PickerelThe eastern pickerel, also called chain pickerel in the North, and jack in the South, was first described by Le Sueur, in 1818, from the Connecticut River. He named it reticulatus, owing to the "reticulations" or the netted character of the markings on the body.

Its range extends from Maine along the coast­wise streams to Florida and Louisiana. West of the Alleghanies it has been reported from the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas, but I am rather inclined to doubt it.

In its general form the pickerel resembles a small pike, though it is more slender, has a larger eye, and its coloration is quite different. The ground color is either olive-brown or some shade of green, the sides with a golden lustre, and the belly white. The sides are marked with many dark lines and streaks, mostly oblique and horizontal, forming a kind of network. There is a dark vertical bar below the eye; the dorsal fin is plain; the lower fins sometimes reddish; the caudal fin occasionally has a few dark spots or blotches.

In its habits of feeding and spawning it is similar to the pike, spawning in the early spring. It is found in weedy ponds in the North, and in the quiet, grassy reaches of southern streams. It feeds mostly on small fishes and frogs. It grows to a foot in length, usually, sometimes to two feet and weighing seven or eight pounds, though its usual maximum weight is three or four pounds.

In the New England states it is regarded by many as not only a fine game-fish, but an excellent food-fish as well. Others despise it on both counts, and there you are. To many boys fishing for pickerel was the highest ideal of angling, but with the larger experience of mature years his idol has been thrown from its pedestal, and he, too, has learned to look askance at the friend of his youth. But while the pickerel is not a game-fish of high degree, it is capable of furnishing a fair amount of sport with light black-bass tackle in waters not too weedy.

Ordinary black-bass rods and tackle are quite suitable for pickerel fishing, either with bait or fly, though the hooks should be larger, about 1-0 to 2-0, on gimp snells or heavy silkworm fibre. Where the weeds are too thick to admit of playing the fish a reel can be dispensed with, and a plain, light rod, in its natural state, can be substituted for the jointed rod. It should be long enough to furnish considerable elasticity, say twelve feet, as its flexibility must subserve, somewhat, the purposes of a reel.

The pickerel will take a sunken fly in shallow water, after it has been fluttered on the surface awhile. The red ibis, soldier, Abbey, polka, Montreal, and coachman are all good pickerel flies, if cast toward the dusk of evening. Skittering is a favorite method of fishing for the pickerel in weedy ponds. It is practised with a long cane rod, and line of about the same length as the rod, with or without a reel. A spoon bait, frog, or a piece of white bacon-rind cut in the semblance of a fish, or a frog's hind legs, skinned, are skittered or fluttered on the surface near the lily-pads and pickerel weeds. The fish should be kept on the surface if possible, when hooked, and drawn into open water; otherwise it may become entangled in the weeds and lost.

The pickerel may also be taken by still-fishing from a boat with the live minnow or frog. On open water, a very successful way is trolling with a small spoon and single hook, or a dead minnow. For these methods the reader is referred to pike or black-bass fishing.

I have found the pickerel as far south as eastern Florida, where it is known as "pike," though it is rarely met with, and owing to its rarity is held in pretty fair esteem as a game-fish. In the marshes and rice ditches of South Carolina, and some sluggish streams of southeast Georgia, it is rather more plentiful, though usually of inferior size and dusky coloration.

I once caught several on the Cooper River in South Carolina when fishing with very light tackle for "bream," which were unusually active and strong, and which impressed me as entitled to a better reputation as a game-fish than is commonly accorded to it by anglers. On the whole, the eastern pickerel is not half a bad fish, as English anglers would say. One might go farther and fare worse.