By Molly Kirk/DWR. Photos by John Byrd
One Caroline County angler couldn’t quite believe his eyes when he reeled in a chain pickerel (Esox niger) recently. As the fish emerged from the water, John Byrd realized its mouth was a shade of vibrant blue. “I’d never seen one that color! And I’ve been fishing in that pond for more than 20 years!” Byrd, of Bowling Green, Virginia, said.
He caught the 11 ½-inch chain pickerel in a 14-acre private pond in Caroline County on a Whopper Plopper lure. Byrd, a retired veteran, kept the fish and contacted Scott Herrmann, a Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) regional fisheries biologist. Herrmann explained that the fish was exhibiting a “wild genetic pigment mutation” but otherwise normal.
“The coloration expressed by the blue pickerel is extremely rare,” said Herrmann. “It pretty much falls into the one-in-a-lifetime category of catches. The normal coloration expressed in the green of a chain pickerel is from the xanthins of the yellow pigments. Blue pickerel express the rare mutation that is axanthic.”
The chain pickerel is a native fish of Virginia common in rivers and streams and also found in reservoirs and impoundments. With a long, slim body, its typical coloration includes yellowish to greenish (almost black when young) sides overlaid with a reticulated, or chain-like, pattern of black lines. Pickerels have fully scaled cheeks and gill covers. The blue-mouth mutation has been reported in chain pickerel in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but is quite rare.