Chain pickerel
Esox niger.jpg
Esox niger
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Esociformes
Family: Esocidae
Genus: Esox
E. niger
Binomial name
Esox niger

Esox reticulatus

The chain pickerel (Esox niger) is a species of freshwater fish in the pike family (family Esocidae) of order Esociformes.[3] The chain pickerel and the American pickerel belong to the Esox genus of pike.[4]


French naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur described the chain pickerel in 1818. Its species name is the Latin word niger "black".[5]

Nicknames in the southeastern United States are the "southern pike", "grass pike", "jack", "jack fish", and "eastern pickerel".[citation needed]


The chain pickerel has a distinctive, dark, chain-like pattern on its greenish sides. Its body outline resembles that of the northern pike. It may reach up to 30 in long only on rare occasions. The opercles and cheeks of the fish are entirely scaled.[4] The average size for chain pickerel, however, is 24 in (61 cm) and 3 lb (1 1/2 kg). (The average chain pickerel caught by fishermen is under 2 lb). It lives around 8 yr. In some places the pickerel is known as a "gunfish", "gunny" or "slime darts" due to their characteristic slime coating.[6]


Its range is along the eastern coast of North America from southern Canada to Florida, and west to Texas. On the Atlantic Coast, in Maine, New Hampshire, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia although it is considered an invasive species in Nova Scotia, the chain pickerel extend as far as 46°N. The fish inhabits fresh and brackish water from the Mississippi Valley. It also is commonly found in Lake Michigan and the lower portion of the Great Lakes.[4] It is considered invasive in northern areas.[7]


Like the northern pike, the chain pickerel feeds primarily on smaller fish, until it grows large enough to ambush large fish from cover with a rapid lunge and to secure it with its sharp teeth. Chain pickerel are also known to eat frogs, snakes,[8] worms, mice, crayfish, insects,[8] and a wide variety of other foods.[9] It is not unusual for pickerel to leap out of the water at flying insects, or even at dangling fishing lures.[citation needed] Raney (1942) studied chain pickerel in a New York pond and found that golden shiners were found in the stomachs of 47.3% of the 234 chain pickerel examined. Brown bullheads were found in 13.8%, and pumpkinseed sunfish were found in 13.2%. Crayfish of the genus Cambarus were present in 42% of the chain pickerel.[8]

The roof of a chain pickerel's mouth, showing several rows of angled, sharp teeth.
The roof of a chain pickerel's mouth, showing several rows of angled, sharp teeth.


The chain pickerel is a popular sport fish. It is an energetic fighter when hooked. Anglers have success with live minnows, spinnerbaits, spoons, topwater lures, plugs, and flies, usually tied with some kind of feather or bucktail material.[10] If the angler intends to release a fish, it is advisable use pliers to flatten the barbs on the lure's hooks. Chain pickerel can swallow an entire lure, so it will be much easier to free a deeply hooked fish and get it back into the water as soon as possible.[citation needed]

A chain pickerel caught from Dyer Pond in Cranston, Rhode Island
A chain pickerel caught from Dyer Pond in Cranston, Rhode Island

Practically any bass lure can be effective for pickerel, although like most pike, they seem to be particularly susceptible to flashy lures which imitate small forage fish. Dragging a plastic worm, lizard, frog, or other soft imitation can also be extremely effective. A Texas rig method is recommended with these soft baits for productive fishing in the weeds.[citation needed]

A steel leader is necessary for sharp-toothed and active fish at two to three pounds. The angler would also do well to use 12- to 17-lb-test line on an open-faced spinning reel. Methods are similar to those for bass, such as dragging a lure through weeds in shallow water and jerking it side-to-side to give it the look of injured prey. Chain pickerel are voracious and opportunistic feeders, and will attack most any fodder that moves into their range of vision.[citation needed]


  1. ^ NatureServe (2013). "Esox niger". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2013: e.T202402A15363088. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T202402A15363088.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Esox niger". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 5 December 2004.
  3. ^ Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2004). "Esox niger" in FishBase. October 2004 version.
  4. ^ a b c Pike, Pickerel and Muskalonge, Alfred C. Weed, Zoology Leaflet 9, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, 1927, pg. 19.
  5. ^ "niger" definition
  6. ^ "Outdoors: It's time to target pickerel".
  7. ^ Cowley, Jim. "Dreaded invasive fish makes its way into Kejimkujik Park". CBC. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  8. ^ a b c "ADW: Esox niger: INFORMATION".
  9. ^ Sternberg, Dick. Freshwater Gamefish of North America. 1987.
  10. ^ "Pickerel Fishing Tips". Riversearch. 14 March 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.