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Do you want a change from fishing regular gamefish like trout, bass, and walleye? Do you want to learn how to catch chain pickerel? Chain Pickerel is one of the overlooked gamefishes available. It is one of the smallest members of the pike family.

They are easy to find, challenging to catch, and will put up a serious fight when hooked. In this article, we will discuss the fishing techniques, behaviors of chain pickerel, fishing tips, and equipment needed to successfully catch pickerel.

How To Catch Chain Pickerel
How To Catch Chain Pickerel

How To Catch Chain Pickerel

Chain pickerel can be caught with baits, lures, and flies. The best bait to use if you want to be sure that you will catch pickerel is minnows. Drifting is a good way to use minnows when fishing for pickerel when the wind is blowing slightly. Release 30 to 50 feet of the line and drag the bait behind the boat. When you get a strike, feed the line for a few seconds, then reel in and hook it in.

When it is not possible to use drifting, you can troll slowly and move your bait over the water. Additionally, you can anchor the boat near structures like bridge pilings, weeds, channel edges, logs, and stumps and cast the bait close to the structures. Slowly retrieve the bait or allow it to suspend beneath a bobber close to the structures.

How To Catch Chain Pickerel With Lures

You can use lures to catch chain pickerel at any depth. When fishing for pickerel in deep water, use spoons, diving crankbaits, and jigs. In shallow water, look for weeds, logs, or brush where chain pickerel may be lying in wait to ambush their prey. A moderate to fast retrieve; however, sometimes you may want to slow down. Although a steady motion is the best approach, sometimes a jerky retrieve produces a strike from the fish.

Fly Fishing

Chain pickerel can be caught by putting your fly fishing skills to good use. Use frog or insect imitations near structures like stumps and logs to catch pickerel.

Fishing Chain Pickerel
Fishing Chain Pickerel

Chain Pickerel Tackle

There are many options for a tackle that can catch Pickerel. A 6 to 8 feet medium weight spinning rod with a 6 to the 10-pound line will work when fishing for chain pickerel. You can go with braided or monofilament, although I prefer braid. Size 1 to 2 hooks will work.

Best Baits For Chain Pickerel

1. Minnows

Live minnow is a sure bait for catching chain pickerel. If you want to catch chain pickerel, take with you a bucket of live minnows on your fishing trip.

2. Panfish

Chain Pickerel has a very healthy appetite and will eat anything you send its way including panfish.

3. Chubs

Chubs, minnows, shiners, and many other baits are all eaten by Chain Pickerel.

Fishing Chain Pickerel Tips
Fishing Chain Pickerel Tips

Best Lures For Chain Pickerel

1. Crankbaits

In summer and fall, because of its voracious appetite, crankbaits, spinners, and soft plastics are very good lures that attract Chain Pickerel.

2. Spinners

Spinners, like crankbaits and soft plastics, are lures that Chain Pickerel can’t resist.

3. Soft Plastics

Soft plastics are lures that Chain Pickerel is susceptible to. With its aggressive nature and a healthy appetite, Chain Pickerel will always go for soft plastics.

4. Topwater Lures

Topwater lures are very effective in catching Chain Pickerel during late summer when they crush topwater lures.

5. Spoons

Spoons and spinners are very effective as lures for catching Chain Pickerel in areas where aquatic vegetation is not common.

6. Spinnerbaits

Spinnerbaits, spinners, and weedless spoons with pork or plastic dressing are also very good for catching Chain Pickerel.

Fishing Chain Pickerel Ideas
Fishing Chain Pickerel Ideas

Chain Pickerel Fishing Tips

1. Chain pickerel can be caught year-round.

2. The best places to find pickerel are ponds and backwater sloughs of large rivers.

3. The best time to fish for pickerel is early spring.

4. You can use fly fishing to catch pickerel. If you find a fly that is an imitation of a frog, you can elicit strikes from pickerel.

Fishing Chain Pickerel Hacks
Fishing Chain Pickerel Hacks

5. You can catch chain pickerel using artificial lures at any depth.

6. Lures work well to catch pickerels in shallow water.

7. Summer and early fall are some of the best times to try topwater flies.

8. Pickerel will often be found in submerged grass beds, transitions along the edge of a weed line, and mangled wood cover near the shoreline.

9. You can keep your baits in the strike zone for the longest period by fishing your baits along weed edges.

Fishing Chain Pickerel For Beginners
Fishing Chain Pickerel For Beginners

10. Chain Pickerel like deep edges along weeds, vegetation, and submerged timber where they can remain hidden and ambush prey.

11. Hook the baitfish through the back instead of the lips.

12. Fish in deeper waters during the summer and winter as pickerel will go into deeper waters to find cooler and more oxygen-rich water.

13. During the fall and spring, fish in shallow waters as pickerel will move to shallow water to take advantage of early-season weeds in the shallow bays.

14. If you locate sunken timber or weeds in very shallow waters, you might be surprised that pickerel will be lurking there and you can catch them.

Chain Pickerel Fishing
Chain Pickerel Fishing

15. Pickerel move into shallow waters during spring when the snowmelt floods lakes, ponds, and rivers with muddy water.

16. After the rain, target creek mouths as fish will move into the mouths of creeks as they prey on baitfish.

17. Pickerel likes baitfish that are soft-finned and easy to swallow like chubs, shiners, trout, and suckers.

18. Make your bait appear like a wounded prey struggling to swim by clipping off a piece of the dorsal or tail fin with a pair of scissors or pliers.

19. The best bait for fishing pickerel during the summer is a frog. Use frog crankbaits or standard bass frogs and work them along the edges of thick vegetation.

Chain Pickerel Fishing Tricks
Chain Pickerel Fishing Tricks

20. Pickerel eat the same baits that are used for largemouth bass like mice, frogs, snakes, sunfish, and baitfish.

21. Spinning or baitcasting gear will work for catching pickerel.

22. Keep on the lookout for lake points with vegetation as points attract fish. A point causes baitfish to bottleneck and allows pickerel and bass to pick them up.

23. Don’t focus only on weeds that rise above the surface like cattails and lily pads. Underwater weeds are habitats for pickerel. Use a fish finder to find these underwater weeds.

24. Gold shines better in muddy water and silver/chrome shines better in clear water. Let the clarity of the water dictate the color of the lure you choose.

Chain Pickerel Fishing Ideas
Chain Pickerel Fishing Ideas

25. Use baits like umbrella a-rigs and jerk baits that elicit reaction strikes from pickerel.

26. With a boat, troll along the edges of Lillies using crankbaits, spinners, or spoons to keep your baits in the strike zone and get bites from pickerel.

27. The best time to fish for chain pickerel is early morning from dawn until 2 hours after sunrise and late afternoon from 2 hours before sunset until dusk.

28. During winter, if you don’t get bites in one spot for 15 minutes or more, move to new spots. Once you get a bite, chances are you just found all of the other fish in that area of the lake as almost all of the fish in a lake will congregate in a few holes or weed lines during winter.

Chain Pickerel Fishing Tips
Chain Pickerel Fishing Tips

29. When you ice fish with tip-ups, don’t let the bait rest on the bottom. Let the bait be out in the open.

30. Vertical jigging works with pickerel when ice fishing and Gulp minnows work well.

31. You can find pickerel during winter by finding submerged vegetation. Drill holes and drop your hook down to the bottom and see if any leaves or weed particles come up attached to your hook. Once you find a solid weed patch, that is the spot where you should drill the rest of your holes.

32. Dig holes at different water depths.

Chain Pickerel Fishing For Beginners
Chain Pickerel Fishing For Beginners

33. When ice fishing for pickerel, do not set the hook immediately or pickerel will take the bait and run with it before taking it fully in its mouth.

34. When you are looking for packs of pickerel, look for deep holes, dropoffs, slow pools, backwater sloughs in rivers, and points.

35. Pickerel can be caught with bait, lures, and flies.

Beginner Chain Pickerel Fishing Tips
Beginner Chain Pickerel Fishing Tips
What is the best bait for chain pickerel?
Minnows, panfish, chubs, and suckers are some of the best baits for chain pickerel..
What is the best time to fish for pickerel?
The best time to fish for pickerel is early morning from dawn until 2 hours after sunrise and late afternoon from 2 hours before sunset until dusk.
Are chain pickerel fun to catch?
Chain pickerel is fun to catch.
What kind of lures do chain pickerel like?
Crankbaits, spinners, soft plastics, topwater lures, spoons, and spinnerbaits are some of the lures for chain pickerel.
What depth do pickerel like?
Pickerel can be fished in the depth range of 15 to 25 feet.
What size hooks for pickerel?
Usually, size hooks in the range of 1/0 to 5/0 will work for baits like minnows.
Is pickerel a good fish to eat?
Pickerel is good to eat. It is bony and if you can remove the bones, it is a good fish to eat.

The Bottom Line

Chain pickerel are found from East Texas to northern Florida, the Great Lakes to the coast, and up to Nova Scotia. It is one of the most overlooked gamefishes. It is challenging to catch and when hooked, will put up a spirited fight. In this article, we shared information, fishing techniques, and tips to help you catch more pickerel.

If you are also interested in other fishes like flathead catfish, bream, and cod, then read these articles on how to catch flathead catfish, how to catch bream, and how to catch cod to help you be more successful fishing for these fishes.