Floridian Nature

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Florida Fish: Pickerels
Pickerels are generally thin-looking fish. They have large, strong jaws, that have plenty of fierce teeth. Their fins are all about the same size, and their dorsal fins are near their tails on the tops of their bodies.

Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) Chain pickerels are deep olive-green on the back, shading to a creamy yellow on the belly. Olive green blotches are present within distinct black chain-like or interwoven markings on the sides. There is a distinct dark, vertical bar below the eye. The cheek and gill covers of the chain pickerel are completely covered by scales. The underside of the lower jaw has 14-17 branchiostegal rays. Other common names for the chain pickerel include: pike, river pike, grass pike, jack, jackfish, eastern pickerel, chainsides, mud pickerel, black chain pike, and duck-billed pike. There are no recognized subspecies, however, they hybridize readily with redfin pickerels.

Found statewide in Florida, chain pickerel are normally found in vegetated lakes, swamps and backwaters, and small to large rivers. They prefer water temperatures from 75 to 80 degrees. The chain pickerels diet is mainly fish. They also eat insects, frogs, mice, crayfish and a wide variety of other foods.

Although not so common as the black bass, chain pickerels are often encountered by bass anglers, especially while plug casting. They are good fighters, especially on light tackle. Productive lures include spinner baits, weedless spoons, surface plugs, crankbaits and jigs. Minnows are a reliable year-round bait. The white, flaky meat is good tasting, but quite bony.

Sexes of the chain pickerel are similar, and sexual maturity is reached in the first to fourth year. Chain pickerels have a maximum life span of probably eight to nine years. Females grow faster than males. In Florida, chain pickerels can reach lengths of up to 30 inches long. Chain pickerels are random spawners rather than nest builders. Spawning occurs in late winter to spring among heavy aquatic weed growth or flooded grasses, in water from a few inches deep to several feet deep. Large number of adhesive eggs are scattered over vegetation. No nest is constructed and no parental care is given to the eggs or fry. About three to four weeks after hatching, they begin cannibalizing other fry.

The world record catch for the chained pickerel is 9.38 pounds, caught in Guest Millpond, Georgia, in 1961.



Pickerels are quite fast, and once they see their prey, they'll waste no time darting into them and gnawing their teeth into the prey.

Redfin Pickerel (Esox americanus) Redfin pickerels have 15 to 36 dark, wavy vertical bars and reddish-orange lower fins. Otherwise the coloration is much the same as that of chain pickerels. There is a dark, backward slanting bar below the eye. The snout is shorter and broader than that of a chain pickerel. Normally there are 11 to 13 branchiosstegal rays on the underside of the lower jaw. The cheek and gill covers are completely scaled. Common names for the redfin pickerel includes: little pickerel, mud pickerel, grass pickerel, banded pickerel,  and redfinned pike. There are two  recognized subspecies of the redfin pickerel: Esox americanus americanus, and the grass pickerel (Esox americanus vermiculatus). Both subspecies hybridize with chain pickerels in the Florida Panhandle.

Redfin pickerel are widely distributed in Florida but diminishes in numbers south of Lake Okeechobee. Usually found in among heavy growths of aquatic plants in sluggish streams, in shallow coves of lakes or in ponds, redfin pickerel prefer water from 75 to 80 degrees. Redfin pickerels may be the dominant predator fish in small creeks. Small fish make up most of their diet, but they also eat aquatic insects and various other invertebrates. These pickerel are scrappy fighters, but its small size limits their popularity as sport fish. They can be caught on minnows, streamers, small spinners, spoons and plugs. Redfin pickerel are a lot of fun to catch on light spinning tackle.

This species grows much more slowly than other members of the pike family. The maximum age is about eight years, but the usual life span is seven to eight years. There is little difference in growth between males and females, although females live longer. Redfin pickerels rarely exceed 12 inches long. Spawning occurs in the spring in shallow, weedy waters. Eggs are adhesive and are scattered freely among submerged vegetation. They become sexually mature by at least age two. No parental care is given to the eggs or fry.

The state record for the redfin pickerel is 1.05 pounds, caught in Jr. Walton Pond, Okaloosa County, in 1986.
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