The chain pickerel, Esox niger (syn. Esox reticulatus), is a species of freshwater fish in the pike family (family Esocidae) of order Esociformes. It is also known as the federation pike or federation pickerel. Its range is along the eastern coast of North America from southern Canada to Florida, and west to Texas.
The chain pickerel has a distinctive chainlike pattern on its sides and its body resembles that of the northern pike. It reaches 24 inches in length with a weight of 3-5 pounds, although the average size for chain pickerel is 20" and 3 pounds. The U.S. record is over nine pounds.
The chain pickerel feeds primarily on smaller fish which it ambushes from cover with rapid lunges and secures with its sharp teeth.
It is a popular sport fish. It is an energetic fighter on the line. Anglers after pickerel have success with live minnows, spinnerbaits, spoon lures, and other lures. Practically every bass lure can be effective for pickerel, although they seem to be particularly susceptible to flashy lures, which imitate small prey fish. Dragging a plastic worm, lizard, frog, and other soft plastics can also be extremely effective.
In ponds and smaller lakes however, some anglers see pickerel as a threat to trout populations and trout restocking efforts. It is sometimes considered an easy-to-bag "trash fish", and not particularly tasty. A commonly used nickname in the southeast for this fish is the Southern Pike.
This fish is edible, but there is a special way to clean them to get the meat with no bone. You must first clean them as any other fish, then carefully cut the backbone out. Then you fillet them in three to four inch segments. You then carefully cut small, preferably 1 cm, incisions on the meat part of the fish up the flesh and sideways. Then deep-fry the fillets until brown. This should eliminate all bones. If fishing for these fish with lures and intend to release the pickerel, mash down the barbs on the hooks with pliers so if the fish does swallow the hook, it will be much easier to remove the hook and get the fish back in the water as soon as possible.
Although this is so, for sport fishing it is ill-advised to do so but if you don't feel like doing the following, please just mash down your barbs and leave them for the pros. If you intend to catch them with barbed hooks, you want big, about a 4/0-2/0 hook, it is advised that you first practice feeling when you have a fish by fishing say, bass, with a worm on the bottom with a weight about five to six inches up from the worm (fake). After you have practiced this for a while you will be able to catch them in the mouth where they have very few sensory nerves and where it is much easier to get the hook out (make sure you wear heavy gloves so as to protect your hands from their teeth and use pliers). Also you may want to get a steel leader because as mentioned above the pickerel have very sharp teeth and will very often when caught thrash and slice your line taking with it your lure and harming the fish.
Lures and Catching: Lures for pickerel are very similar to that of what a trout hook is but you want bigger hooks. In case you don't know a trout lure other that flies (not that kind) are usually some kind of feather or bucktail material with either some beads or a spoon or sometimes both and this is about all you'll need to catch them other than the steel leader. Fist thing you want to do is attach your steel leader to your line which if you're going for about two to three pounders should be a 12-17lb test on an open-face reel To catch the pickerel pretend you're looking for bass and drag your spoon lure through shallow weeds, about 6-18in. of water, and jerk it to the side to give it that look of an injured creature that they would like to eat. Pickerel are a lot like the "sharks" of lakes and they are vicious and like to chomp at almost anything that thrashes around in the water. Be careful not to overdo it so as not to make it look too alive--you should try to make it look like it's on its last leg dead but not quite dead. Now you are ready to go and catch some pickerel and remember, other people want to catch them too, so please, release them after you've caught them. Besides, they're not that good tasting!