Chain Pickerel – Esox Niger

Chain Pickerel Ken Hammond, no known copyright restrictions (public domain),

General: The Chain pickerel is a species of freshwater fish in the pike family. The chain pickerel has various local names such as: federation pike, federation pickerel, southern pike, jack and jack fish.

This fish that got me really hooked on fishing. As a 12 year old fishing on a small lake in Vermont, I hooked a pickerel while fishing for sunfish in a weed bed.  I threw a small red devil spoon alongside the weeds. I almost finished reeling in and was about to lift the spoon out for another cast when the pickerel hit. In the fight that ensued, it jumped, tail danced and fought.

Identification:  The chain pickerel can grow up to approximately 31” long and weigh almost 8 lbs. The chain pickerel has a distinctive dark chain-like pattern on its greenish sides. Its body outline resembles that of the northern pike. They have a conspicuous dark bar beneath each eye. The pupil of the eye is yellow.  The snout is long, broad, and rounded with a large mouth full of teeth. Its lower jaw extends further forward than the upper jaw. One identification marker to distinguish the chain pickerel from pike is the number of sensory pores on the underside of the jaw. Chain pickerel have 4 pores on each side of the lower jaw while pike have 5. Pickerel have sharp teeth!!

Their dark upper side is interrupted by light vertical bars.  A large dorsal fin is located back towards the forked caudal fin. The caudal fin is deeply forked.

Territory: The chain pickerel can be found in the eastern USA, from Maine to Florida, into eastern Canada and west to west to Texas. You can also find them in the Mississippi Valley into southern Wisconsin and into the Great Lakes.

The chain pickerel has been introduced elsewhere – a practice that has caused problems due to competition with and predation on native species.

Habitat: Pickerel can be found in streams, ponds, lakes and rivers. They can be found in or near cover such as submerged aquatic vegetation, tree limbs or any other form of structure. Pickerel tend to be solitary fish, lurking hidden in the aquatic vegetation, waiting for prey to swim or drift by.

Diet: The main diet of the pickerel consists of fish, crayfish, frogs, mice, newts and insects. It is a carnivore that is opportunistic to say the least, in fact they are cannibals when the opportunity presents itself. There are pictures of chain pickerel trying to swallow a fish almost as big as themselves – a testament to just how voracious they are.

NYS Dept of wildlife