Chain Pickerel: The Ever-present Bonus Fish

They take a backseat to many gamefish, but I for one think chain pickerel deserve a little more credit than they get. They are willing biters, good fighters (we’re talking pound for pound, not inch for inch), and present in a wide range of waters and habitats. They just have a way of showing up on your line no matter what your target species may be.

On many lakes, you can’t pursue largemouth bass in shallow cover without combing though numbers of chain pickerel, but that’s the obvious encounter. The species/habitat overlap is nearly 100% in that case. Although I don’t turn up my nose at any pickerel, the pickerel that I appreciate the most are the deep water bonus picks – the ones that take lures meant for open water species. These are suspended fish living out over water that would cover a five story building.


You might be looking for this…
…and catch this. That’s fine with me.

Reason #1, it’s always an unexpected appearance. Who doesn’t love a surprise, especially in a colorful. green & yellow wrapper?

Reason #2, the deep water pickerel are always sizable; generally ranging from 2 to 5 pounds or even more. Bigger is better.

Reason #3, the fight quality is underrated. There’s no confusing a skinny 16 incher from the pads with a four pounder from the depths. Sure, the fight might include a period of that “wet sock” dead weight act, just like largemouth often do, but full grown specimens will show their athleticism with head shakes and short drag peeling bursts as well. The one in the pic at the top even gave a full bodied jump that would make a rainbow trout jealous.

Sharp teeth and copious amounts of slime will keep the chain pickerel way down on the general popularity scale. Most folks are just too squeamish. While everyone may not share my affinity for the species, I think we can all appreciate them as a predator and a gamefish.


Snell a Hook in 6 Easy Steps


1. Cut your desired length of line for the snell.

2. Push the line through the eye toward the point. make this about as long as the hook shank.

3. Wrap the long section of line around both the hook shank and the short length of line about eight times.

4. Pinch the line wraps to hold them in place and push the end of the long section of line through the eye toward the hook point.
5. Snug the wraps up toward the eye.

6. Moisten the knot and pull the long section of line hard to set the snell.

Opportunities in Disguise

Fishing is a funny activity – funny peculiar, not funny haha. Although it is a game of problem solving, we often handcuff ourselves with misconceptions or hesitations. It’s usually a fixation on a certain lure, or bait, or “spot” that holds us back.

A 25 pound flathead from a southern honey hole.

Years ago, I took a road trip to fish with a guide “down south” for flathead catfish. I learned a lot that day. I have returned to that same water a few times guideless, and always had success. More importantly, I always enjoyed the process. Simultaneously, I had been curious about a population of flatheads closer to home, but I never wet a line.

Why did I drive hours past flatheads to catch flatheads? The only answer I can give is; I didn’t know where to start, or so I thought. I had handcuffed myself with hesitation. I had confidence, but only in one spot.

Well, I finally took the first step. I picked a likely stretch of river, took what I had learned fishing for “southern” flatheads, and made a few adjustments to fit this “northern” river. We had reasonable success right out of the blocks. That first step has opened a whole new fishery to my disposal – a new local species, a new water, and new set of fishing puzzles to solve.

This single digit cat broke the flathead ice for us.
This 16# was big fish of the day and a good way to close the first outing on new water.

Don’t Squander the Opportunity

This is my constant self reminder. Whether it be an opportunity that presents itself on the water or an opportunity to get on the water at a unique time or place – take it! It’s easy to not do something, but not doing something is never rewarding. Don’t say to yourself later, I could have caught this if I tried or I could have fished there if I made the time.

This is a text book example. Family travel was taking us through prime catfishing waters. We could just pass through and save time, or with a little preparation and planning, we could make some great memories with a morning on the water. We took the latter.

A meager start, but we were on the board early.
Preparation gave us options. A change of spots increased both size and numbers.
A solid flathead to cap off the morning.

Quality vs Quantity

As I get my gear together for an outing with a good friend on very challenging trout water, I began thinking about this. It’s easy to fall into the mindset of big fish equals success. To some that may always be the case, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I admit, at times I follow that equation too. When I really stop and think about why I spend time fishing it’s not as cut and dried as pounds and ounces.

This diminutive smallmouth double was cause for great rejoicing.

Quantity is generally the initial goal, but often it’s the peripheral details that make a fishing trip rewarding. Seeing a mink on the shore could be the highlight of the day. An unexpected species or a particularly colorful example of a common species could be the day’s trophy. Big fish are great, but other factors frequently outweigh the largest fish.

The colors of this pumpkinseed would rival the residents of a tropical coal reef.
This little rainbow was a pleasant surprise when collecting sunfish for bait.

Contest #2 Winner!

Claus from PA came through with the first correct answer. It is a bowfin, amia calva. The last surviving species in its order. It’s also a hard fighting, under appreciated gamefish. No one got the extra credit answer. That is: gular plate, the bony plate under the chin.

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To all that played: great guesses and good luck next time. To all that didn’t: check back often. There will be more chances to win.

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