Chain pickerel (Esox)
The chain pickerel is a long, slender fish with a duckbill-shaped snout and sharp, needle-like teeth. The coloring of the fish range from light green to brownish-green along the back, fading to a pale yellow underside. Chain pickerel can be distinguished from other pike by the black or dark green chain-like markings on their back and sides. The juvenile chain pickerel is steel blue in color and will not show the chain markings on their sides until they reach six to eight inches long.
Other ways to identify the chain pickerel are the single black vertical bar directly beneath the eye and the scales that cover both the cheeks and the gill covers.
Young chain pickerel are omnivorous. As they get older and larger, they focus on larger prey. They have been known to eat insects, birds, frogs, mice and snakes as well as other fish, such as minnows, sunfish, catfish and even the weaker pike.
One nickname for the chain pickerel is chained lightning. The chain pickerel was given this name for its style of acquiring food. The fish lie in wait for its prey, hiding near or under vegetation. The pickerel will ambush anything it can swallow. This fish can be found hunting in shallow water in the morning and early evening. If necessary, the pickerel will move to deeper water if the weather becomes too warm.
Chain pickerel are located in the eastern portion of the United States and in parts of southern Canada. They have been found in isolated areas of Quebec, New Brunswick and have been introduced into parts of Nova Scotia. The chain pickerel is especially abundant in Florida and in the Mississippi River Valley waterways. The fish can be found naturally in the Cypress River drainage in Texas and have been introduced into some east Texas water sources.
Chain pickerel inhabit clear, slow-moving rivers or streams and heavily vegetated swamps, ponds and lakes. Chain pickerel prefer water temperatures varying from 60 to 80 F. However, they can survive in much colder water, depending upon the area.
- Chain pickerel are extremely territorial. They have been known to attack and devour game fish of comparable size, especially trout. This type of pickerel is frequently used in fish management programs with the specific intent of controlling the sunfish population in Texas and other water sources.
- The largest chain pickerel on record was caught in Homerville, Georgia in 1961. It was 29.5 inches long, with a weight of 9 pounds 6 ounces.