Chain Pickerel - Esox niger
Also known as: Black Chain Pike, Chainsides, Duck-billed Pike, Eastern Chain Pickerel, Eastern Pickerel, Federation Pickerel, Green Pike, Lake Pickerel, Mud Pickerel, Picquerelle, Reticulated Pickerel
It inhabits the eastern United States and Canada, from Nova Scotia southward through all of the Atlantic coast states and most of Florida, and westward through Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana to as far as the Navasota River in eastern Texas. From Louisiana, it extends northward in the Mississippi River drainage through eastern Arkansas to southeastern Missouri and southwestern Kentucky.
All members of the genus Esox look very much alike, especially when young. The chain pickerel can be recognized by its markings. The sides which are yellowish to greenish (almost black when young) are overlaid with a reticulated, or chain-like, pattern of black lines. Also, the pickerels (including the redfin and grass pickerels), have fully scaled cheeks and gill covers. The northern pike usually has no scales on the bottom half of the gill cover, and the muskellunge, E. masquinongy, usually has no scales on the bottom half of either the gill cover or the cheek.
The flesh is white and flaky, and very tasty during the winter months. In summer, however, the taste not as good. Removing the skin before cooking may remedy this.
Weed Beds (Freshwater)
Weed beds provide great structure. They provide food and shelter for baitfish, attracting game fish. Look for weed beds that lead to deeper water and create a break line, or look for sunken weed beds in deep, open water.
The water along the shore always provides a lot of structure and food. So, it attracts fish. Pan fish, such as crappies, sunfish, bluegill and perch, come in to feed on the baitfish. Early in the morning – or late at night- game fish will swim into the shallows to sneak up on both the baitfish and pan fish making it possible to land a big pike or even a Muskie close to shore.
Trees, branches, logs, stumps, rocks,—they’re all structure. They all provide shelter, shade and protection for fish. So it’s a good place to find fish. Always watch your line, and be extra careful if you’re in a boat.
When water boils up from the bottom of the lake, it creates a spring hole. In the summer, deep-water fish are attracted to these holes because the water coming out is always cooler relative to the surrounding waters. Even when the hole is not in deep water, spring holes can attract unsuspecting, deep-water lunkers.
Inlets and Outlets
All natural lakes are fed by a river or a stream of some sort. So they have inlets and outlets for the water. Wherever there is incoming or outgoing water, there’s going to be a lot of food and a lot of fish.
Like any structure that tilts gradually down and into deeper water, a gradual-sloping shoreline can provide plant food, attract fish and create a path out of and back into deeper water. However, a really gradual slope will create a large expanse of shallow water that will not attract fish.
Sometimes, in early spring and late fall, when there’s very little vegetation anywhere, baitfish will roam open lake waters in search of plankton. During those times, you can look for small fish on the surface in the open water. If you see a bunch of small fish, it’s a good bet larger fish are lurking below.
Piers, Docks and Pilings
Call it structure. Wherever there’s structure there’s food, shelter, and fish. Weeds, grasses and other food sources can attach to anything. Docks and piers provide shelter from the sun and a nice resting spot for both big and small fish.
Holes are glacially formed basins that are lower than the rest of the lake. Water in these holes is cooler, attracting deep-water fish on hot, summer days. You’ll need a topographical map to find them.
Walkways and Bridges
Walkways are like piers, but are specially built fishing platforms that are near or run parallel to bridges, piers, shoreline bulkheads, or similar structures. An example is a walkway along a bridge, but constructed at a lower level. This keeps anglers safe from auto traffic and puts them closer to the water.
Fishing isn't always allowed from bridges because of the danger from traffic. Bridges where angling is permitted must be fished carefully. Many game fish hold down current of the bridge as baitfish and nutrient rich water float by. Cast your bait up current, and let it drift back.
Overhanging Trees and Bushes
Usually close to shore, these spots offer protection from the sun and above-water predators. Bigger fish rest in these areas if the water isn’t too shallow, allowing quick access to deeper water for feeding and escape.
Points and Break lines
A point extends out from the shoreline and slopes gradually down and into deeper water. It’s a good place to fish. But a point with a quick drop-off or one that doesn’t extend into deeper water isn’t a good place to fish.
- The sloping-out formation of a point creates a break line.
- A break line draws fish from deeper water to shallow water in search of food.
- Fish the point of the point and the corners of the point (the part that curves back into the shore).
Inside Turns and Coves - The Opposite of a Point
An inside turn is a small inlet that cuts into the shore. If the water in the turn is shallow, you’ve got another break line and another great place to catch fish.
A cove is a larger version of an inside turn, with more shoreline, more shallows, more protection, and more fish. Smaller fish will patrol a cove for plant food and bait fish, and game fish may come early in the morning or late at night.
Islands or Sand Bars
These sunken or partially sunken bodies of land will attract both baitfish and game fish if they create a break line or contours that slope gradually down and into deeper water. Water currents run around islands, too, carrying small plant food and aquatic animals that float on the surface. This also attracts baitfish and game fish.
Rocks are structure. They provide fish with shelter, cover, food and a possible place to mate. Remember, fish structure. If the rocks are in deeper water or on the edge of deeper water, they provide an even better place to fish. Just avoid snagging your bait on the rocks.
Cliffs and Steep Shore Banks
A sheer cliff or bank that goes straight down into deep water provides no structure, break line, or gradual path to deeper water. So, it doesn’t attract fish. On the other hand, a cliff or bank that has an underwater shelf or slopes gradually toward deeper water does attract fish. You should also look for crumbled-off rock at the underwater base of sharp cliffs. Deep-water fish may be attracted to these rocks for food or spawning.
The insects and other aquatic critters that live on or around lily pads always attract smaller bait fish; baitfish always attract bigger fish. Huge patches of lily pads can also create shade, which also attracts fish. Cast into the edges and openings. Otherwise, you’re likely to tangle up your gear.
Freshwater Lakes and Ponds
Lakes and ponds are great places for fish to live. They produce abundant plant food and offer plenty of cover for fish to hide. Shoreline structures like docks, logs, stumps, brush and rocks provide shelter, shade and protection for fish, which means that they also provide great fishing opportunities for the anxious angler. You can fish lakes and ponds from the shore or from a boat. You can, also, find fish in shallow or deep water, in open water or near natural or near man-made structures. In lakes, you can catch freshwater fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike, pickerel, perch, panfish, trout, and even salmon. Get to know your lake’s structure. Points, inlets, holes, sunken islands, dams, submerged objects (manmade or natural), reeds and weeds are all considered structure. You should always fish in and around structure. It’s a simple formula: 1.Structure creates shallows. 2. Shallows create plant growth. 3. Plant growth attracts baitfish. 4. Baitfish attract game fish.
Bait casting is a style of fishing that relies on the weight of the lure to extend the line into the target area. Bait casting involves a revolving-spool reel mounted on the topside of the rod. Bait casting is definitely an acquired skill and takes some practice. Once you get the hang of the technique, you will be casting your lures right on target into the structures where fish are feeding and living. Spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting but provides the same ability to present a lure or bait. You can use spin casting equipment to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6 12 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting. When sight casting to fish, always remember to cast longer or farther than needed. You can always make a long cast short, but you can never make a short cast long.
Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.
Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.
Most trolling is done using a small electric motor that moves the boat quietly through the water so fish aren’t spooked. But you can also troll by towing a lure while walking along the edge of a shoreline, bridge or pier. The speed of the boat determines the depth of your bait. And the depth of the bait is determined by the species of fish you’re trying to catch. Use a spinning reel or a bait caster for trolling. Some states don’t allow motorized trolling, so check out your local fishing regulations to avoid tangling with the fish enforcers. Trolling allows you to cover a lot of water while effectively fishing an area.
Bait & Lures
Ants, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and caterpillars are ideal for catching pan fish, sunfish and trout. Brown trout are especially attracted to ants presented on a fly. Smallmouths and large trout prefer immature versions of mayflies, stoneflies, caddis, hellgrammites and dobsonfly larvae. You can buy insects or catch your own. Ants can be gathered from a nest and large insects can be captured with a net.
Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish
Leeches are excellent bait for freshwater walleye and northern pike, leeches are readily available from bait shops. They should be hooked through the sucker in the tail. Leeches have suckers at both ends. But the tail sucker disk is larger than the head disk.
There is a simple rule of thumb when using leeches. Don't fish them faster than they can naturally swim. The attraction is the swimming motion.
Tips and Tricks for Leeches
If you're placing leeches in your live well, give them at least one hour to adjust to the new temperature. So they can stretch out and swim naturally.
Leeches are hardy and will last a long time. You can keep them fresh in a refrigerator for many days.
Minnows and Nightcrawlers
Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.
For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.
For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just in front of the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.
Tricks and Tips for Minnows
For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position
Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.
Worms are a good bait for nearly all freshwater fishing. You can find enough worms for fishing from a few shovels of dirt in your garden or from a shaded, damp area. Worms can also be purchased in fishing tackle stores and bait shops. For walleyes and bass use earthworms or night crawlers.
For pan fish, sunfish and trout use smaller manure worms. You can find them in cattle and horse pastures.
Trick and Tips for Worms
To prevent smaller fish from nibbling the worm without biting down on the hook, you can use just a piece of the worm.
If you have small worms, thread the hook through the side of the worm at several places along its body. For bait-stealing fish such as sunfish, thread the worm on the hook until the hook is completely covered.
Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.
Perhaps the most effective method for catching largemouth bass is with soft plastics. This is especially true of the plastic worm. In general, worms are fished very slowly and smoothly. A soft plastic can be rigged one of three ways: the Carolina rig, the Texas rig and the Wacky rig. The primary difference between the Carolina and Texas rigs is the location of the lead weight. In a Texas rig, the bullet weight rests directly in front of the plastic; whereas the bullet weigh is separated approximately six inches from the worm by a swivel in a Carolina rig. A Wacky rig is simply a soft plastic tube or tail-less worm that is hooked right at the center of the lure. The idea for the Wacky rig is to have two equal lengths of the worm or tube on both ends of the hook. All of this rigging is applicable to virtually all soft plastics, including swim baits and artificial crayfish.
Color choice depends on the body of water being fished. Brighter colors tend to work better in clear, translucent water, and darker colors tend to work better in opaque, muddy water.
There are many styles of worms and this too is dependant of the specific body of water. Generally, the more commotion a lure creates, the better it is for muddy water. You simply have to be prepared for whatever conditions you will meet on the water.
Spinners have one or more blades that spin, or revolve, around a straight wire shaft. Some spinners have tails made of soft plastic or animal hair. Spinner baits are lures with one or more blades that spin around a safety pin-type shaft. Most spinnerbaits have skirts made from animal hair, vinyl, rubber or other materials.
Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.