The chain pickerel or southern pike (Esox niger) 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 pike.
It is also known as the "gunfish", "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. It may reach up to 30 in long only on rare occasions. The opercles and cheeks of the fish are entirely scaled. The average size for chain pickerel, however, is 24 in and 3 lb. (The average chain pickerel caught by fishermen is under 2 lb). It lives around 8 yr.
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°N. The fish inhabits fresh water from the Mississippi Valley into southern Wisconsin. It also is commonly found in Lake Michigan and the lower portion of the Great Lakes.
The chain pickerel feeds primarily on smaller fish, like the northern pike, until it grows large enough to ambush large fish from cover with a rapid lunge and to secure it 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 pike, 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. A Texas rig method is recommended with these soft baits for productive fishing in the weeds.
A steel leader is necessary for sharp-toothed and active fish at two to three pounds. The angler would also do well to use 12- to 17-lb-test line on an open-faced 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).
- NatureServe (2015). "Esox niger". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 4.1 (4.1). International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
- "Esox niger". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 5 December 2004.
- Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2004). "Esox niger" in FishBase. October 2004 version.
- Pike, Pickerel and Muskalonge, Alfred C. Weed, Zoology Leaflet 9, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, 1927, pg. 19.
- Sternberg, Dick. Freshwater Gamefish of North America. 1987.
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