Mention trying to find some Chain Pickerel to a local and you’re likely to get a blank stare.
In many of the southern states where the Chain Pickerel range, they are known as “Jack fish” or just “Jacks”.
The red-headed step child to their larger, more popular siblings the Northern Pike and the Muskie.
Pickerel are often overlooked as a sport fish to target
Pickerel are often overlooked as a sport fish to target, which is unfortunate because they are superb game fish-plentiful, aggressive, hard-fighting and good looking.
Chain Pickerel and weeds go together; masters at the art of ambush, pickerel will lie in or just above weeds like milfoil, hydrilla and Lilly pads.
Hiding in these weeds, facing outward waiting for something delicious to appear, pickerel then launch violently with great speed snatching up their prey with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth.
During the late summer months the midget jacks and the monster chainzillas are separated by water depth.
Small pickerel will remain in shallow waters in and around weed beds and fallen timber along the shorelines.
Typically, these smaller fish are under 2 pounds and exemplify the size most anglers catch.
The bigger pickerel, those exceeding 4 pounds, will be found in deeper water.
The end of summer on through September is the best time to hunt for trophy-size pickerel
Big pickerel like cool environments and deep structure; look for deep areas near and outside weed lines, the same spots you would target big largemouth bass.
The end of summer on through September is the best time to hunt for trophy-size pickerel.
But doing so requires you ignore the shallows and fish deeper, cooler water.
There are a couple of great techniques for going after pickerel:
(1) Casting lures heavy enough to stay within the strike zone of deep holding pickerel.
(2) Trolling spoons, in-line spinners and shallow/deep running crank baits, or working stick baits on a drop rig 12-15 feet deep along weed edges.
Those with a drive system in their kayaks will have a slight advantage with trolling.
Recommended casting lures include 5/8 to 1-once spinnerbaits and in-line spinners, 5/8 to 1 once jigs with large soft plastic trailers, spoons and crank baits that run 10-15 feet deep on a cast.
On days when pickerel choose to be closed lipped, a jig rigged with a live shiner or a tapered slice of bluegill can usually open those toothy mouths!
Regardless of what method or lure that you choose, use a black 6 – 9 inch steel leader or a strand of 30 – 40 pound test monofilament to guard against bite-offs.
One thing to remember: although Chain Pickerel are great fighters, they are delicate fish.
Unless you plan to bring one home for dinner, handle them as little as possible and keep them as wet as possible during your picture taking and release.
I look forward to seeing some great pictures of your catch, Chain Pickerel is the target species for September for the Lowcountry Kayak Anglers Angler of the Year competition.
Don’t forget about Coastal Angler Magazine’s BRAG BOARD for Pickerel and all your trophy kayak catches!
Good luck and tight lines,
Low Country Kayak Anglers Tournament Director
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