Chain Pickerel

Esox niger

chain pickerelDistribution: Chain pickerel range from the St. Lawrence drainage south to Florida, east of the Appalachian Mountains. They are also found in the southern Mississippi drainage. Chain pickerel are distributed throughout New Hampshire.

Description: The chain pickerel is a long, torpedo shaped fish with a large mouth filled with needle-like teeth. The large dorsal and anal fins positioned close to the tail are an adaptation for sudden bursts of speed. Adults have a characteristic pattern of dark chain-like markings over a dark green to yellowish green background.  There is generally a dark bar beneath the eye that extends straight down or slightly forward, toward the lower jaw. Redfin pickerel have a similar dark bar beneath the eye, but it extends backward toward the tail. Chain pickerel may be distinguished from northern pike by an operculum (the hard bony flap covering the gills) that is completely covered in scales, while in northern pike, the bottom half of the operculum is scaleless.

Species commonly confused with: Redfin pickerel, northern pike

Habitat: Chain pickerel inhabit the shallow waters of lakes, ponds, and slow flowing sections of rivers and streams.

Life History: Chain pickerel are usually associated with aquatic vegetation, which they use as cover for ambushing prey. They are voracious predators of other fish species, as well as snakes, frogs, ducklings, and even muskrats. Chain pickerel spawn over aquatic vegetation in wetlands and marshy backwaters just after ice melt. Early spawning is an adaptation which allows their young to grow large enough to feed on the young of other fish species, which hatch later in the spring. Chain pickerel are a relatively short lived but fast growing species, reaching lengths of up to 2 feet (600 mm) in their third year. Although they are usually associated with slow flowing backwaters and ponds, they are strong swimmers and may sometimes be found in faster flowing rivers and streams.

Origin: Native

Conservation/Management: There are no specific conservation or management objectives for chain pickerel. The species is common throughout the state. Chain pickerel are a top predator and the presence of larger individuals may reflect healthy prey populations in an area. Their position at the top of the food chain makes them vulnerable to the bioaccumulation of certain toxins, such as mercury.

Fishing Tips: Chain pickerel are aggressive and generally easy to catch. Good areas to target are locations that are less than 10 feet deep and contain abundant aquatic vegetation. Pickerel can be caught on live bait such as worm and minnows or with artificial lures. Some suggested lures include spinnerbaits, plastic worms, and Johnson Silver Minnows.