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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 good fighters who 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.

1. Casting

Casting is one of the most common and effective methods for catching chain pickerel. Anglers use spinning or baitcasting rods paired with appropriate reels to cast lures or live bait to likely pickerel holding areas. Casting allows anglers to cover a wide area of water, including weed edges, shoreline structures, and shallow flats where pickerel often lurk.

Lures such as spinnerbaits, spoons, crankbaits, and soft plastics are popular choices for casting. Retrieval techniques like steady retrieves, jerks, pauses, and twitches can entice strikes from aggressive pickerel. Casting is versatile and suitable for both novice and experienced anglers, making it a popular method for targeting chain pickerel.

2. Trolling

Trolling is another effective method for catching chain pickerel, especially in larger bodies of water with open expanses. Anglers use specialized trolling rods and reels to tow lures or baited rigs behind a moving boat at various speeds. Common trolling lures for pickerel include diving plugs, spoons, spinnerbaits, and soft plastics rigged on weighted swimbait hooks.

The key to successful trolling for pickerel is covering a lot of water and presenting lures at different depths and speeds to locate actively feeding fish. Anglers can troll along weed lines, drop-offs, submerged structures, and other pickerel habitat to increase their chances of success. Trolling allows anglers to explore large areas efficiently and target pickerel holding in different parts of the water column.

3. Still Fishing

Still fishing, also known as bait fishing or bottom fishing, can be effective for targeting chain pickerel, particularly in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. Anglers use a variety of live or dead bait, such as minnows, shiners, nightcrawlers, or small fish, rigged on hooks, and weighted rigs to entice pickerel. Still fishing is typically done from stationary positions such as the shore, docks, piers, or anchored boats.

Anglers can present baited rigs near submerged vegetation, fallen trees, weed beds, and other pickerel ambush points. Patience and strategic bait placement are essential for success when still fishing for pickerel, as these predators often strike opportunistically at baitfish or other prey items.

4. Jigging

Jigging is a versatile fishing method that can be effective for catching chain pickerel, especially in deeper water or during colder months when fish may be holding in deeper holes or channels. Anglers use specialized jigging rods and reels to vertically present lures or baited rigs below the boat. Jigs, soft plastics, and baitfish imitations are common choices for jigging pickerel.

Anglers can vary the jigging action, including lifts, drops, hops, and pauses, to mimic injured or struggling prey and trigger strikes from nearby pickerel. Jigging allows anglers to target specific depths and structures where pickerel are likely to be holding, making it a productive method for anglers who understand the fish’s behavior and habitat preferences.

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-foot medium-weight spinning rod with a 6 to 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

Minnows are a popular and effective bait choice for targeting chain pickerel. These small, lively fish appeal to pickerel’s predatory instincts, enticing them to strike with aggression. Minnows can be rigged on hooks with or without weights, allowing anglers to present them at different depths depending on the pickerel’s location.

When fishing with a live minnow, anglers often use a bobber or float to suspend the bait at a desired depth or allow it to swim freely near cover where pickerel are likely to lurk.

Minnows work well in various water conditions and can be particularly effective when fished around submerged vegetation, fallen trees, rocky outcrops, or other structure-rich areas where pickerel ambush their prey. Overall, minnows provide anglers with a versatile and reliable bait option for enticing strikes from chain pickerel in both still and moving waters.

2. Panfish

Panfish, such as bluegill, sunfish, and perch, serve as excellent bait for targeting chain pickerel. These smaller fish are natural prey for pickerel and can be highly effective in attracting strikes. Anglers often use live panfish, either whole or cut into chunks, to entice pickerel into biting.

Rigging a live panfish on a hook with a bobber or sinker allows anglers to present the bait at the desired depth, whether near the surface or closer to the bottom. Panfish are particularly enticing when fished around weed beds, submerged structures, or along the edges of vegetation where pickerel tend to hide and hunt.

The lively movements of live panfish make them irresistible to pickerel, triggering aggressive strikes. For anglers seeking to enhance their understanding of using panfish as bait for chain pickerel, educational resources from reputable institutions such as universities can provide valuable insights and tips. Here is an informative article from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offering guidance on using panfish as bait for chain pickerel fishing.

3. Chubs

Chubs are often prized as effective bait when targeting chain pickerel. These small fish possess a natural swimming motion and emit vibrations that can attract pickerel from a distance. Anglers commonly use live chubs, rigged on hooks with a bobber or sinker, to present the bait at various depths.

Chubs can be fished near the surface or deeper depending on the angler’s preference and the prevailing conditions. The lively movements of live chubs mimic the behavior of injured prey, enticing pickerel to strike aggressively.

Anglers may also opt to use cut or chunked chubs as bait, especially when fishing in areas with dense vegetation or around submerged structures where pickerel often lurk. Overall, chubs serve as a versatile and effective bait option for anglers targeting chain pickerel, offering both natural presentation and enticing movement to trigger strikes.

Fishing Chain Pickerel Tips
Fishing Chain Pickerel Tips

Best Lures For Chain Pickerel

1. Crankbaits

Crankbaits are highly effective lures for targeting chain pickerel in various freshwater habitats. These lures feature a diving lip that allows them to dive to specific depths, making them ideal for exploring the underwater structure where pickerels often hide.

The wobbling action and vibrant colors of crankbaits mimic injured baitfish, triggering aggressive strikes from pickerel. Anglers can adjust the diving depth of crankbaits by selecting models with different lip sizes or by varying retrieval speeds.

Additionally, crankbaits are versatile, allowing anglers to cover a large area efficiently while trolling or casting. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service recommends using crankbaits with rattles or other noise-producing features to attract pickerel, especially in murky or stained water conditions. Overall, crankbaits are a staple lure choice for anglers pursuing chain pickerel, offering both versatility and effectiveness in enticing strikes.

2. Spinners

Spinners are a popular and effective lure choice for anglers targeting chain pickerel. These lures consist of a metal blade or blades that spin rapidly as they are retrieved through the water, creating flashes and vibrations that attract the attention of pickerel.

The spinning action imitates the movement of small baitfish or prey, enticing aggressive strikes from pickerel lurking in the weeds or near submerged structures. Spinners come in a variety of sizes, colors, and blade configurations, allowing anglers to customize their presentation to match the prevailing conditions and the preferences of the fish.

Additionally, spinners are easy to cast and retrieve, making them suitable for anglers of all skill levels. Whether retrieved steadily or with erratic pauses and jerks, spinners can be highly effective in enticing strikes from chain pickerel, making them a go-to lure option for many anglers pursuing this species.

3. Soft Plastics

Soft plastic is a versatile and effective lure for targeting chain pickerel. These artificial baits come in various shapes and sizes, including worms, grubs, and swimbaits, allowing anglers to mimic the appearance and movement of natural prey. Soft plastics can be rigged on jig heads, weighted hooks, or Texas rigs, depending on the fishing conditions and the desired presentation.

When fishing for chain pickerel, anglers often opt for brightly colored soft plastics with vibrant patterns to grab the attention of these aggressive predators. The soft, lifelike texture of these lures provides an enticing action in the water, enticing strikes from pickerel lurking in weedy areas or along the edges of submerged structures.

Anglers can experiment with different retrieval speeds, pauses, and jerks to imitate the movement of injured baitfish, triggering reactionary strikes from hungry pickerel. Overall, soft plastics offer anglers a versatile and effective option for enticing chain pickerel in various fishing situations.

4. Topwater Lures

Topwater lures are exhilarating and effective choices for targeting chain pickerel, providing anglers with exciting surface strikes and heart-pounding action. These lures are designed to imitate injured or struggling prey, creating commotion and attracting pickerel from below.

Topwater lures come in various styles, including poppers, prop baits, and walking baits, each offering a unique action and presentation on the water’s surface. Anglers can work these lures with a twitching, popping, or walking motion to mimic the movements of distressed baitfish or frogs, enticing aggressive strikes from chain pickerel hiding in shallow weedy areas, along shorelines, or near submerged structures.

The explosive surface strikes of pickerel attacking topwater lures make for thrilling angling experiences, and these lures are particularly effective during low-light periods or in calm water conditions when pickerel are more likely to be actively feeding near the surface. Overall, topwater lures are excellent choices for anglers seeking adrenaline-pumping action and targeting chain pickerel in freshwater environments.

5. Spoons

Spoons are versatile and effective lures for targeting chain pickerel, offering anglers a straightforward yet enticing presentation that mimics the erratic movements of injured baitfish. These lures typically feature a curved, metallic design with a shiny finish, resembling the shape and flash of a small fish.

Anglers can fish spoons at various depths by adjusting their retrieval speed and angle, making them suitable for both shallow and deeper waters where pickerel are known to lurk. By casting spoons and retrieving them with a steady, rhythmic motion or imparting sudden jerks to mimic wounded prey, anglers can trigger aggressive strikes from pickerel looking for an easy meal.

Additionally, spoons are effective in covering a wide area of water quickly, making them ideal for locating active fish in larger bodies of water such as lakes, ponds, or slow-moving rivers. With their simplicity, versatility, and effectiveness, spoons are a staple lure choice for anglers targeting chain pickerel in various freshwater environments.

6. Spinnerbaits

Spinnerbaits are highly effective lures for enticing chain pickerel, offering a combination of flash, vibration, and lifelike movement to trigger strikes. These lures consist of a wire frame with one or more spinning metal blades attached, often adorned with colorful skirts to imitate the appearance of baitfish or other prey.

The spinning blades create enticing vibrations and flashes as they move through the water, drawing the attention of pickerel from a distance. Anglers can vary the retrieve speed and depth to customize the presentation, allowing them to target pickerel in different parts of the water column.

Spinnerbaits excel in weed-choked areas and around submerged cover where pickerel tend to hide, thanks to their weedless design that minimizes snagging. By casting spinnerbaits near structures, along weed edges, or around submerged logs and retrieving them with steady retrieve or erratic jerks, anglers can effectively entice strikes from aggressive pickerel.

Spinner baits are versatile, reliable, and well-suited for both novice and experienced anglers seeking to catch chain pickerel in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds.

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. They are ambush predators. This northern pike, with its sharp teeth, will lie in wait for unsuspecting prey in brush piles, and other areas with abundant aquatic vegetation.

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 cold water that is more oxygen-rich.

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. Chain pickerel is a sport fish and a member of the pike family.

A fishing trip for Chain pickerel can be full of adventure as this solitary fish moves from open water to deeper water during cold weather. 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.