The chain pickerel, Esox niger (syn. Esox reticulatus), is a species of freshwater fish in the pike family (family Esocidae) of order Esociformes. The chain pickerel and the american pickerel belong to the Esox genus of pikes.
Its range is along the eastern coast of North America from southern Canada to Florida, and west to Texas. On the Atlantic Coast, in Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the chain pickerel extend as far as 46 degrees north latitude. The fish inhabits freshwater from the Mississippi Valley into southern Wisconsin. It also is commonly found in Lake Michigan and the lower portion of the Great Lakes. They also range to the Florida Panhandle.
It is also known as the "federation pike" or "federation pickerel". Pickerel is often a name given to walleye, although the true name belongs to the chain pickerel. Common nicknames in the southeastern United States are the "southern pike", "grass pike", "jack", "jack fish", and "eastern pickerel".
The chain pickerel has a distinctive dark chain-like pattern on its greenish sides. Its body outline resembles that of the northern pike. May reach up to 30 inches only on rare occasions. The opercles and cheeks of the fish are entirely scaled.
The average size for chain pickerel, however, is 24 inches and 3 pounds. (The average chain pickerel caught by fishermen is under 2 pounds).
The chain pickerel feeds primarily on smaller fish just like the Northern Pike,unless it grows large, which it ambushes from cover with a rapid lunge and secures with its sharp teeth. Chain pickerel are also known to eat frogs, worms, mice, crayfish, and a wide variety of other foods. It is not unusual for pickerel to leap out of the water at flying insects, or even at dangling fishing lures.
The chain pickerel is a popular sport fish. It is an energetic fighter when hooked. Anglers have success with live minnows, spinnerbaits, spoons, plugs, and flies, usually tied with some kind of feather or bucktail material.
If the angler intends to release a fish, it is advisable use pliers to flatten the barbs on the lure's hooks. Chain pickerel can swallow an entire lure, so it will be much easier to free a deeply hooked fish and get it back into the water as soon as possible.
Practically any bass lure can be effective for pickerel, although like most pikes they seem to be particularly susceptible to flashy lures which imitate small forage fish. Dragging a plastic worm, lizard, frog, or other soft imitation can also be extremely effective. It is recommended to use a Texas Rig method for these soft baits for productive fishing in the weeds.
A steel leader is necessary for sharp-toothed and active fish sizing two to three pounds. The angler would also do well to use 12 to 17-lb. test line on an open-face spinning reel.
Methods are similar to those for bass such as dragging a lure through weeds in shallow water and jerking it side-to-side to give it the look of injured prey. Chain pickerel are voracious and opportunistic feeders and will attack most any fodder that moves into their range of vision.
Chain pickerel are considered good eating by many, but due to many small bones preparing the fish can be difficult. However, the meat is very white and flaky with a mild flavor as the pickerel is a lean fish (not being oily such as salmon or trout).
Like all pike, the chain is big, but for the table the angler must clean them properly to remove the many small bones. To do so, gut the fish when it is landed to prevent body fluids from contaminating the meat. Keep the fish cool until you bring it home (in most places a game/conservation officer must be able to readily determine the size and weight of a fish). Place the fish on a cutting board and with a sharp flexible knife cut along one side of the fish at the back bone. There are bones that run along the back bone and will be easily avoidable after you begin the cut, and should also be easy to realize and avoid with future cuts. Now cut the meat off the rib cage by gently running the tip of the knife length wise across the ribs and pulling the meat away. When you get about a quarter of the way down begin to slice the meat off the tail in the same manner. Do Not cut the fillet off completely until you have cut the opposite side. Make sure to thoroughly rinse the fish after having gutted it and before cooking it.
- Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2004). "Esox niger" in FishBase. October 2004 version.
- "Esox niger". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 5 December 2004.
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