How to Catch Chain Pickerel (3 Steps to Success)

glowing green pickerel
Ernest Grey

I love to test new fishing gadgets and share my opinion.

Chain pickerel, often referred to as the “water wolf,” are elusive freshwater predators that offer an exciting challenge for anglers. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting, learning how to catch these voracious fish can lead to thrilling moments on the water. In this article, we’ll delve into the art of catching chain pickerel, sharing practical tips, techniques, and real-life examples to help you hook these toothy critters.

Chain pickerel inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats, including ponds, lakes, rivers, and slow-moving streams, making them accessible to anglers in various locations. Their aggressive nature and willingness to strike at a variety of lures and baits make them an attractive target species. For more information check this guide: Best Chain Pickerel Lures

Whether you’re casting from the shoreline or trolling in a boat, understanding their behavior and preferred environments is crucial to increasing your chances of success. In the following sections, we’ll break down the essential steps to help you become a proficient chain pickerel angler, from selecting the right gear to mastering effective techniques. Let’s dive in!

Before we dive into the tactics of catching chain pickerel, it’s essential to understand these intriguing fish. Here are some interesting facts and key insights that every angler should know:

1. Family TiesChain pickerel (Esox niger) are part of the pike family, which includes their larger cousins, northern pike and muskellunge.
2. Tooth ArsenalPickerel are aptly named "water wolves" due to their sharp teeth. Their mouths are filled with rows of needle-like teeth designed for grabbing and holding onto prey.
3. Habitat VarietyThese fish thrive in diverse habitats, from weedy shallows to deeper waters, making them adaptable and widespread in North America.
4. Ambush PredatorsPickerel are ambush predators. They hide among aquatic vegetation or submerged structures, waiting for unsuspecting prey to swim by before striking swiftly.
5. Lively FightersAnglers appreciate pickerel for their spirited fights once hooked. Their tenacity and acrobatic leaps make them a thrilling catch.

There is also a separate article for chain pickerel sizes: How Big Do Chain Pickerel Get?

Live Bait Methods That Catch Pickerel

When it comes to targeting chain pickerel, using live bait can be incredibly effective. Pickerel are opportunistic predators, and the sight and scent of live prey can trigger their aggressive instincts. Here are some live bait methods that consistently catch pickerel:

1. MinnowsSmall minnows, such as golden shiners or fathead minnows, are a favorite live bait for pickerel. Hook them through the lips or back fin for natural swimming action.
2. WormsNightcrawlers or red worms can be threaded onto a hook or presented on a small jig. Their wiggling motion in the water can entice pickerel strikes.
3. FrogsLive frogs, particularly those resembling native species, are a tempting treat for pickerel. Hook them through the lips or hind legs and cast near cover.
4. CrayfishCrayfish are a natural part of pickerel's diet. Hook them through the tail or under the carapace and let them scuttle along the bottom to attract strikes.
5. Small FishIf you have access to smaller baitfish like perch or sunfish, these can be excellent pickerel bait. Hook them through the lips or tail and let them swim freely.
6. LeechesFreshwater leeches are another live bait option. Thread them onto a hook or use a slip sinker rig to keep them near the bottom, where pickerel often lurk.

When using live bait, it’s essential to adjust your presentation to match the pickerel’s activity level and preferences on a given day. Experiment with different bait types and techniques to discover what works best in your local waters. Keep in mind that using circle hooks can help reduce the chances of deep hooking pickerel, making catch and release easier and more sustainable.

Chain Pickerel Fishing Techniques with Lures

Chain pickerel can also be enticed by artificial lures, and using the right techniques can lead to successful catches. Here’s a list of effective pickerel fishing techniques using lures:

1. SpinnerbaitsSpinnerbaits with flashy blades and a skirt can mimic small baitfish or injured prey, attracting pickerel strikes. Vary your retrieval speed for best results.
2. CrankbaitsDiving crankbaits imitate wounded fish or diving prey. Cast near submerged structures and retrieve with pauses to trigger strikes.
3. Topwater LuresFloating topwater lures create surface commotion, mimicking struggling prey. Experiment with a "walk the dog" or "pop and pause" retrieve for action.
4. Soft Plastic BaitsSoft plastic swimbaits, worms, or creature baits rigged on a jighead can be enticing for pickerel when retrieved steadily or with erratic twitches.
5. JerkbaitsJerkbaits offer a suspending action that mimics an injured baitfish. Use short, sharp jerks followed by pauses to make the lure dart and pause in the water.
6. SpoonsSpoons, especially silver or gold ones, can mimic the flash of a struggling fish. Cast and retrieve at various depths and speeds to find the pickerel's preference.

Pickerel often strike lures aggressively, but they may also follow them before committing. Therefore, be prepared for sudden strikes, and consider using a leader to prevent bite-offs due to their sharp teeth. Vary your lure selection and presentation to adapt to changing conditions and increase your chances of hooking these elusive predators.

Fly Fishing Opportunities for Chain Pickerel

While conventional tackle is commonly used to target chain pickerel, fly fishing can offer a unique and rewarding way to pursue these predatory fish. Pickerel can be aggressive and willing to strike at fly patterns that imitate their natural prey. Here’s a discussion of fly fishing opportunities for chain pickerel.

Fly Selection: When fly fishing for pickerel, it’s essential to choose fly patterns that resemble the fish’s preferred prey. Streamers and large wet flies in colors like chartreuse, yellow, and white can mimic small baitfish or juvenile panfish, which are common food sources for pickerel.

Fly Presentation: Cast your flies near likely pickerel habitats, such as weed beds, fallen logs, or submerged structures. Retrieve your fly with short, erratic strips to imitate a wounded or fleeing prey. Pickerel are known to strike aggressively, so be prepared for sudden takes.

Fly Rod and Line: A 6 to 8-weight fly rod with a fast-action or medium-fast action is suitable for pickerel. A weight-forward floating line is usually sufficient for most situations, but sinking lines can be used to fish deeper waters.

Leader and Tippet: Consider using a heavy leader or bite tippet, as pickerel’s sharp teeth can easily cut through traditional fly fishing leaders. A wire leader or heavy fluorocarbon tippet can help prevent bite-offs.

Catch and Release: If you’re fly fishing for pickerel, it’s essential to practice catch and release, as these fish are valuable components of their ecosystems. Handle them with care, use barbless hooks if possible, and release them quickly to ensure their survival.

Fly fishing for chain pickerel can provide an exciting and challenging angling experience. The visual aspect of watching pickerel strike at your fly on the surface or just below it can be particularly thrilling. So, if you’re looking for a different way to enjoy fishing for these “water wolves,” give fly fishing a try, and you might find a new angling adventure awaits you.

In conclusion, catching chain pickerel can be an exciting and rewarding experience for anglers of all skill levels. By following the tips and techniques outlined in this article, you can increase your chances of hooking these elusive predators.

Remember to choose the right lures and bait, understand their habitat, and employ the right retrieval methods. Patience is key when targeting chain pickerel, as they can be unpredictable.

So, head to your favorite fishing spot, armed with the knowledge from this article, and embark on your next chain pickerel fishing adventure. Enjoy the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of a successful catch!