When Do Chain Pickerel Spawn and How to Catch Them

Chain pickerel are unique-looking fish with prominent chain-like markings along their bodies, similar to northern pike, which can be a fun and exciting freshwater fish to catch throughout the year. …

Chain pickerel are unique-looking fish with prominent chain-like markings along their bodies, similar to northern pike, which can be a fun and exciting freshwater fish to catch throughout the year.

Spawning time – in spring in the north of the US and winter in the south – is a great time to fish for northern pickerel.

Many experienced and intermediate anglers spend their early spring weekends targeting these long-bodied fish with a large dorsal fin during their spawning months once water temperatures reach a suitable range for the smaller males to start courting the much larger females.

This article will look into the specifics to answer the question of when do pickerel spawn, as well as the best places to look for chain pickerel in your area. Whether you have fished for chain pickerel before or this will be your first time, I’ll help you pinpoint the best spots and methods when targeting these fish.

When Do Chain Pickerel Spawn: Times and Seasons

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Photo by James P. Mann is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
  • Northern USA: March, April, May
  • Southern USA: December, January, and February

Chain pickerel can spawn across various months depending on their home location. These fish commonly spawn anywhere between the months of December and May. The more southern they range, the earlier in the year they will spawn.

Spawning behavior is based more on the water temperatures than the exact month. So for southern populations, the water will reach a suitable temperature much sooner than it will in the north.

For chain pickerel populations living in the south where temperatures are much milder throughout the year, December, January and February spawning months are common. For populations of chain pickerel living in the north where water normally freezes each winter, March, April, and May are more the norm.

Chain pickerel will only start their spawning behaviors once the water temperature reaches at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. These slender-body fish are prolific breeders that are sexually mature by their 4th year, and one female can produce tens of thousands of eggs at a time.

Where Do Chain Pickerel Spawn?

Chain pickerel are extremely well distributed around the northern, midwestern, and several southern states of the USA. They range into Canada as well and do exceptionally well in areas where temperatures get very low during the winter.

It’s not uncommon to find these ambush-style predators when fishing all along the Atlantic coast, with populations living in reservoirs and lakes around New England, the northern Midwest, as well as the Gulf Coast tributaries.

Chain pickerel are a common target for ice fishermen, and have been one of the most popular wintertime sportfish in the northeastern region of the United States. Since chain pickerel can grow to reach 30 inches or more, and can weigh 10 pounds, it’s not too difficult to find suitable habitats for their spawning to take place.

When searching for the best spot to go fishing, look for backwater areas that are swampy and well-covered in vegetation or overhanging tree limbs where pickerel can remain lurking hidden, and safe. Since the chain pickerel tend to be solitary fish, they will lay their eggs and not provide any protection or parental care.

These popular game fish will normally look for heavily weeded areas where the eggs can be hidden and protected to hatch and grow on their own around the thick submerged aquatic vegetation.

The eggs the female lays are very sticky and will attach to weed beds, grasses, stems, and leaves of almost any aquatic vegetation. They will also attach to sunken logs, and fall in and around larger stones and boulders.

If you are searching for suitable spawning areas for chain pickerel, find heavily wooded areas, marshlands, or flooded waterways with an abundance of aquatic vegetation where these fish in the pike family will feel secluded and protected among the submerged vegetation.

What Triggers Pickerel Spawning?

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Image by James P. Mann is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

While some anglers believe the moon phases play a huge role in pickerel spawning behavior, the fact of the matter is chain pickerel are stimulated by the water temperature. They enjoy much cooler water than most fish and will start actively spawning when the water temperatures reach 48 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

This spawning behavior will continue to around 55 degrees Fahrenheit water temperature but will start to slow down and eventually stop if the water warms up much past that. If you’re attempting to pinpoint the exact time chain pickerel in your area are spawning, instead of relying on the calendar months, check the water temperature in known pickerel waterways.

In the early spring, pickerel spawning can also be timed along with spawning walleye in your area. If you are looking for a species to target as your post-spawn walleye fishing species, these long-bodied fish in the pike family can be exactly what you need to scratch that itch.

Pickerel tend to be solitary fish but will gather together in decent numbers in their spawning grounds or other weedy pools giving every avid angler a chance to haul in one of these amazing fish from deep or shallow water where they are lurking hidden while waiting for live bait or a tasty looking lure to get within their strike zone.

How to Catch Spawning Chain Pickerel

Chain pickerel are an absolutely excellent sport fish to target all year round, and are one of my personal favorite ice fishing species to focus on as well. These pike-like pickerels are also very easy to catch on a wide range of different setups, making them beginner friendly too.

When ice anglers go fishing in the winter in deeper water, pickerel can be caught on a bright-colored spoon or weighted jig. My favorite bait for these fish is shiners, but other diehard anglers have had luck using redworms and leeches.

As the water temperatures rise, pickerel start getting much more aggressive when it comes to their feeding behavior and will readily take a number of different lures including spinners and crankbaits, as well as almost any soft plastic you may have.

Many anglers I have spoken with have also had good luck catching chain pickerels with small streamers on topwater fly tackle, especially when fishing later in the spring or mid-summer months. Chain pickerel will eagerly strike at Jitterbugs and some small topwater creature baits, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the lures and baits you have on hand.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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