One of North America’s most under-rated gamefish, the chain pickerel is often encountered by kayak fishermen. This article provides an overview of chain pickerel behavior as well as basic kayak fishing tips and techniques for the species.
Chain pickerel are smaller in size than northern pike and muskellunge, but share similar features and behavior. Chain pickerel are somewhat unique among pike in their tolerance of brackish water. This characteristic allows them to become dominant predators in swamps, creeks, and other estuarine waterways.
The chain pickerel’s historical range included tributaries of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The species has since been introduced throughout much of North America.
Chain pickerel are usually found near cover or other areas where feeding opportunities exist. Like other pike, the chain pickerel is a stealth predator.
When fishing for chain pickerel, areas that contain aquatic vegetation are usually worth scouting. Lily pads are prime habitat, as well as submerged aquatic plants.
Timber is another type of structure that can attract chain pickerel. Stumps, fallen trees, and overhanging limbs provide cover where pickerel can lurk in the shadows, waiting to attack prey that comes within range.
Eddies are prime locations for chain pickerel. Eddies are found wherever moving water meets an obstruction. Small eddies can be found around rocks or other submerged obstructions. Larger eddies can form when two bodies of moving water meet at opposing angles.
Tailwaters are another type of structure that is known to attract pickerel. These include outflows from manmade dams, beaver dams, log jams, and other structures.
Chain pickerel are notorious for moving seasonally, even within small bodies of water. In spring they are often found near stream outflows or other flowing water where prey is abundant.
During summer, chain pickerel often seem to disappear from many areas. During these periods, pickerel are more likely to be found in deep cover or farther up tributaries.
Kayak Fishing Strategies
By understanding chain pickerel behavior, kayak fishermen can employ unique fishing strategies. Some of the best fishing can occur in shallow backwaters, narrow creeks, or other areas that are inaccessible in larger boats.
Chain pickerel by casting, trolling, jigging, live-bait fishing, and other techniques. Chain pickerel are caught with many of the same lures that are popular for bass fishing. Popular lures include spoons, inline spinners, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwater plugs, soft plastic worms, and simple jigs.
Chain pickerel can also be caught using live baits. Common choices include minnows, small forage fish, crayfish, frogs, nightcrawlers, hellgrammites, or other baits.
Having the correct equipment at hand is important when chain pickerel are a possibility. Long-nosed pliers or other de-hooking tools are usually necessary
to remove hooks at boatside. Other useful equipment includes a small towel, and if desired, a digital camera or smartphone.
Chain pickerel are often caught together with largemouth bass, crappie, white perch, yellow perch, northern snakehead, bowfin, gar, catfish, and other fish.