Catching Your First Pickerel

The pickerel is found throughout the Eastern United States and Canada, offers a ferocious fight and looks great in a catch & release photo or wall mount; yet it is one of the least sought after gamefish. Why? Because many anglers just do not know how to catch their first one. If they did I am sure they would be as hooked at the fish they had just caught.

Pickerel 101

Before you can catch a pickerel you need to understand a little about it, it habits and generally what makes it tick. First, the pickerel is the smallest member of the pike family and, like it’s bigger cousins, was built to be a killing machine. Its sleek profile is perfect for hiding and ambushing passing prey and its long sharp teeth make sure whatever it bites does not get away. Second, it will eat almost anything. Frog, mice, snakes, insect and anything else that falls into or swims through the water is a likely meal. But the favorite meal remains fish- chubs, other pickerel and especially minnows.

Location, location, location

As stated earlier, pickerel can be found throughout the Eastern United States and Canada but their preferred habitat is shallow water of impoundments or slow moving streams/rivers with plenty of cover, a little bit of color to the water and a slightly acidic composition. Vegetation, rock piles or even docks will hold pickerel as long as they offer the concealment needed to ambush passing prey. Habitat near points, ledges, deep holes or other changes in contour are usually extra productive.


Most pickerel rarely grow to more than 4 lbs. so a light to medium action rod equipped with 6-10 lb test line will handle even a trophy. Add a wire leader to protect against the sharp bit and finish with a size 1 or 2 hook. A couple split shot 12 inches above hook will get your bait down to the fish and adding a bobber can help keep everything in the stricke zone ( approximately 2-3 ft. off bottom) Now all you need is your favorite bait or lure, cast from shore, drifted or trolled from your boat.

  • Although pickerel will hit almost any bait minnows are by far the most popular- keep a bucket on hand for an almost sure thing.
  • If you find pickerel reluctant to strike even a fat, tasty minnow try slowing down your presentation. Sometimes too much flash or splash can scare predators away rather than attract them.
  • Try casting past intended target, as much as 30 ft. , and let bait drift into potential hiding spot to simulate wounded or dying bait fish. Lack of nearby splash and more natural presentation is more likely to draw out weary pickerel.
  • On windy days, or in stained water, add a top water lure to your arsenal and get ready for some eye popping torpedo action with violent strikes.

Good luck, good fishing!

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