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What is a Chain Pickerel?

The Chain Pickerel, a sleek, torpedo-shaped freshwater fish, is known for its distinctive, chain-like pattern. Thriving in eastern North America's lakes and streams, this relative of the northern pike is a formidable predator, striking with lightning speed. Its voracious appetite makes it a favorite among anglers. Discover how this aquatic hunter plays a vital role in its ecosystem. What secrets does it hold?
Christine Hudson
Christine Hudson

The chain pickerel, or Esox niger, is a freshwater fish of the pike family. It is often referred to as the jack fish or the southern pike and can be found from southern Canada down the eastern coast to Florida and west to area of Texas in the US. Chain pickerel reach about 24-inches (about 70 cm) long and can be identified by a dark chain-like pattern on the sides.

Chain pickerel tend to live in calm and quiet waters. They are active throughout the winter and prefer to live under cover of aquatic vegetation. These fish can be found in larger rivers as well as along the grassy or heavily covered bottom of lakes. They are prized fish for some anglers, as well.


A chain pickerel's diet consists mainly of the smaller fish that it hunts. Like other pike, it has very sharp teeth, which make it a dangerous predator. The fish spawn between December and February, and the newly hatched fish feed on plankton until they are about 3-inches long (7.62 cm) and become carnivorous.

Some anglers consider chain pickerel an excellent sport fish, as it is very energetic and aggressive when hooked. As its main diet is fish, live minnows or lures are usually good to use for bait. Larger lines of at least 15-pound (6.8 kg) strength and a steel leader are also useful when fishing for the chain pickerel because of its sharp teeth. If the intention is to catch and release, the barbs on the lure should be flattened to avoid extensive and sometimes fatal damage to the fish.

Typically, chain pickerel is not considered a fish to be eaten, but there are some anglers who take the time to prepare it. In order to eat the fish, it should be cleaned thoroughly, as most chain pickerel have many small bones. Many claim that the taste is comparable to other pike but that the meat obtained and the amount of time needed to remove the bones are not worth the effort.

Due to the popularity of sport fishing the chain pickerel, the fish is now farmed along the west coast and parts of Texas. The populations of these farms are raised to a certain size, then released into lakes and rivers to allow game fishing to continue. There are even professionals in some popular areas which can help individuals catch, clean and cook the fish.

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