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Last Updated:
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Toothy predators make great light
tackle sport all across the South
TOP: Trent Hill shows off
a chain pickerel he
caught on a spinnerbait
while fishing Lake
Seminole near
Chattahoochee, Fla.

RIGHT: J.R. Mundinger
of Lake Talquin Trophy
Guide Service shows off a
chain pickerel he caught
on a spinnerbait while
fishing at Lake Talquin
near Tallahassee, Fla.  
  Barely rippling the surface, the white spinnerbait pushed a bulge of water,
creating a vee-shaped wake with its chrome blades as it sputtered over
submerged grass. Instantly, the bait disappeared in a cloud of mist and fury
as a large predator annihilated the temptation.
  “This is a good one! To win this tournament, we just need one big kicker
bass and this one is fighting like a sea monster. I see green in the water. It
must be over 25 inches long,” the angler exclaimed. “Nuts! It’s another
pickerel.”
  Southern anglers often consider chain pickerel nothing more than a
nuisance to avoid when trying to catch other species, but the toothy predators
can provide extremely exciting, hard-hitting sport. Sometimes erroneously
called pike, chain pickerel share many traits with their family members such as
northern pike or muskellunge, but don’t grow nearly as large. These toothy
predators rarely exceed 30 inches long or weigh more than three pounds.
The world record pickerel, caught near Homerville, Ga., weighed 9.38 pounds.
  Also called grass pickerel, southern pike or eastern pickerel, chain pickerel
occur abundantly across the South where they find very little fishing pressure.
They range from southern Canada to Florida and west to the Mississippi River
valley. In most Southern states, anglers can catch chain pickerel without a
season or limit, although special regulations may apply on specific water
bodies. Most Southerners ignore them, but anglers frequently catch pickerel
by accident while targeting largemouth bass.
  “Not too many people specifically target them, but they catch pickerel
incidental to bass fishing,” said Bob Wattendorf, a Florida fisheries biologist.
“Many bass anglers consider them bait thieves and avoid areas with lots of
pickerel. Pickerel compete with bass for food, but they have existed side by
side with bass for millions of years.”
  Pickerel love vegetation and prefer sluggish systems and backwaters with
little current. Using their excellent camouflaged coloration, they hide in thick
matted grass, lily pads, hydrilla and other vegetation. When they see
something they like, the flash out from their lairs with incredible quickness.
  “I’ve always caught pickerel in the backwaters and up the creeks around
weeds,” advised Cliff “JR” Mundinger, Jr., a fishing guide (www.fishtallahassee.
com). “Pickerel are very exciting fish to catch. They don’t get nearly as big as
pike, but when they hit a bait, you know it. A 3-pound chain pickerel will put up
a great fight.”
  Pickerel often prey upon the same species as largemouth bass. Highly
aggressive predators, pickerel primarily feed upon fish including threadfin
shad, wild shiners, panfish, minnows and other succulent morsels. These
vicious and opportunistic predators occasionally eat crawfish, snakes, frogs
and even mice or small birds that venture too close to the water.
  “A chain pickerel is a very good fighting fish,” explained Mark Shepard, a
bass pro and guide (888-629-2277, or www.lakeokeechobeeguide.com,
BASSonline.com.) “They are a lot of fun to catch. They’ll hit almost anything
that a largemouth bass will hit, but they like flashy lures more than soft
plastics. We catch a lot of them with rattling baits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits.
We also catch a lot of pickerel on weedless spoons worked over the tops of
matted grass.”
  Almost any lure or bait that might tempt largemouth bass may provoke a
vicious strike from a chain pickerel. Many bass anglers catch pickerel on
spinnerbaits, weedless spoons, shad-, bream- or bass-colored crankbaits and
similar lures. The elongated green torpedoes occasionally hit topwater baits
and especially like weedless frogs buzzed across grass mats. Pickerel hit with
considerable violence and aggressively pursue anything that might look like
food. When hooked, they put up a great fight with spirited runs, powerful
lunges and sometimes even jump like a largemouth.
  “My two favorite baits to catch pickerel are spinnerbaits and jerkbaits,”
Mundinger advised. “Pickerel absolutely love a jerkbait because they are
primarily fish feeders. I also like to catch them on topwater frogs run through
the lily pads.”
  Live baits work particularly well for attracting pickerel. Any baitfish might
provoke a strike. Pickerel particularly love river shiners, a popular bass bait.
Crappie anglers also catch them when fishing weedy edges with minnows or
threadfin shad. When intentionally fishing for these fish, many anglers use
short steel leaders to prevent them from biting the line in half with their razor
teeth. These abundant fish can provide exhilarating sport on light tackle.
Seldom pressured, they almost always hit any tempting morsel that crosses
their duck-like noses. Anglers just need to penetrate through their vegetated
lairs to get at to them.