Department of Environmental Conservation

Video chain pickerel bait


Location: Statewide; common

Average size: 15-20 inches; 1-2 pounds

Trophy size: Greater than 25 inches; 8-9 pounds – Check the Current State Record

Identifying characteristics: Chain-like markings on its side; dark vertical bar under eye

Related to: Muskellunge and Northern Pike (Pike family)

Preferred habitat: Shallow, weedy areas of ponds, lakes, and rivers (2-10 feet deep)

Catchability: Easy – sometimes considered a pest as you catch them instead when targeting other species such as bass

Interesting facts: Chain pickerel have sharp needle-like teeth; females can lay up to 50,000 eggs

When to Fish

Anytime during the open season, with the best fishing occurring from early May through July. Pickerel remain active in the winter, providing ample opportunities to catch them through the ice. They can be caught anytime during the day but are often more active early and late in the day.

How to Catch

Considered “lie and wait” predators, pickerel are usually found around vegetation where they ambush smaller fish as they pass by. Pickerel can generally be found in weedy, shallow (2-10 foot), water most of the year. When fishing by boat, start near the bank and work your way out until you find the depth where they’re hiding.

Gear and Techniques

  • Rod: 5.5-7′ medium or medium-light action spin casting, spinning, or bait casting rod.
  • Line: 8-12 pound monofilament line, plus a steel/wire leader (to prevent their sharp teeth from slicing your line).
  • Lures: Spinnerbaits, jerk baits, crankbaits, top water lures, jigs and plastics can all be effective. Pickerel often go after brightly colored lures (white, red, and yellow), but natural colors also work well.
  • Bait: 3-4″ live minnows hooked under the dorsal fin fished under a bobber. Hook them under the dorsal fin and fish them under a bobber.
  • Tips & Techniques: Like any type of fishing, keep trying different things until you find what’s working that day. Pickerel often follow lures to the boat, so if you see them doing that try changing your retrieve. Slow it down or speed it up and try to make it more erratic. If that doesn’t turn followers into biters try a different lure style or color.
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Ice Fishing

Try using tip-ups baited with minnows 1-3 feet off the bottom. Jigging with spoons, swimming lures (ex. Rapala jigging rap), or jigs tipped with a whole minnow, minnow head, or spikes are also good options. Fish in 5-15 feet of water around any remaining weed beds. For more ice fishing tips visit the Learn How to Ice Fish page.

Safety Tip

Pickerel are known for being hard to hold and many anglers have accidently hooked themselves while trying to unhook a pickerel. As a result, use caution when handling, especially if fishing with lures with multiple treble hooks. Using single hook lures, like a spinnerbait or bladed jig, often makes unhooking them easier. Long needle nose pliers or hemostats, and a jaw spreader can also aid when unhooking them.

Waters to Fish

While chain pickerel are common throughout the state, a list of some of the top waters is provided below.

Area Top Waters County DEC Region Long Island, NYC, & Southeastern NY Deep Pond Suffolk 1 Artist Lake Suffolk 1 Forge Pond on the Peconic River Suffolk 1 Swinging Bridge Reservoir Sullivan 3 Lake Superior Sullivan 3 Harriman State Park Lakes (leaves DEC website) Rockland & Orange 3 Northern & East-Central NY Lake George Essex & Warren 5 Brant Lake Warren 5 Saratoga Lake Saratoga 5 Lake Champlain Multiple 5 Black River Jefferson, Lewis & Oneida 6 Skaneateles Lake (south end) Onondaga, Cortland & Cayuga 7 Cayuga Lake (north end) Tompkins, Cayuga, & Seneca 7 Madison Reservoir Madison 7 Oneida Lake Madison, Oswego, Oneida & Onondaga 7 Upper Little York Lake Cortland 7 Tully Lake Cortland & Onondaga 7 West-Central & Western NY Hemlock Lake Livingston & Ontario 8 Canadice Lake Ontario 8

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Fishing & Boating Access: Find boat ramps and fishing access sites around the state.

Preparing Your Catch

Pickerel are bony but can be filleted to remove the y-bones or they can be ground (y-bones included) in a food processor and made into fish patties.

How to Fillet Pickerel

1-7. Begin by following the basic fillet steps 1-7 on page 31 of the Care of Your Catch (PDF) guide. If you’re not grinding the fish, proceed to remove the y-bones following steps 8-11 below. 8. Cut the tail-section off the fillet, start about where the rear edge of the dorsal fin would be. This tail-section should be bone free. 9. Feel for the y-bones, around where the lateral line would be. Put the knife at a 45 degree and cut-down along the edge of the y-bones. Remove that slim chunk of meat along the back and save, as it should be bone free. 10. Angle the knife at 45 degrees again but this time at the opposite angle. Follow the bottom of the y-bones and cut towards tail. That slim middle section of meat can be tossed as it should contain all the y-bones. 11. You should now have 3 boneless pickerel fillets. Repeat on other side.

Consumption Advisories

Ensure the fish you catch are safe to eat by reviewing the fish consumption advisories (leaves DEC website) prepared by the NYS Department of Health.

Fishing Regulations

Understand the freshwater fishing regulations and purchase a freshwater fishing license (if 16 or older) before venturing out.

Additional Getting Started Resources

Free Fishing Opportunities Free fishing days, free learn to fish clinics, and the rod loaner program all offer ways to help a beginner get started.

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Fishing Guides and BrochuresFind numerous useful documents created by DEC to help you learn the basics and get started fishing.

YouTube Channel: Beginners’ Guide to Fishing A “how to” video series that provides basic information for beginners interested in getting started in freshwater fishing.

Fishing Tips and Skills Links to numerous informational resources on learning how to fish.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>