Catching Pickerel In The Spring

Catching Pickerel In The Spring

By John Kwoka

pickerel, delaware, sussex county, mill ponds
24.5 inch Pickerel caught at Derby Pond on Rapala X Rap jerkbait

I like catching Chain Pickerel….there I said it!  To me it’s the most underrated and far too often dismissed freshwater fish in the Delmarva area. Why this hard-fighting fish gets such dismissive treatment by a lot of anglers is a mystery to me especially since most freshwater fisherman practice “catch and release” anyway. And to be honest; Pickerel is actually a great tasting fish.  Just learn how to cut the Y-bone out and you end up with three pieces of white, flaky, tasty fish….google it.  But enough about table fare comparisons.  I fish for the action….the hits and the fight.  I am found almost exclusively using light tackle and no fish swimming in the freshwater lakes and ponds of the First State and Old Line State fight like a Chain Pickerel.

Pickerel are the forgotten member of the Esox Family of fish.  The Muskie and Northern Pike take all the headlines due to their size and proliferation across a lot of the country.  But muskies are only caught in limited areas in Delaware and Maryland and Northern Pike are not found in the waters of Delmarva.  So my only experience with the toothy “Esox” family is the Chain Pickerel.

24.5 inch Pickerel caught at Diamond Pond on a ¼ ounce Joe’s Fly in-line Spinner

When you look at a Chain Pickerel; all you see is pure predator…a mouth full of sharp teeth, a lean body that screams speed and a resemblance to a gator with its wide jaw.  These fish can explode on its prey with just a flick of its tail.  They are willing to bite on most baits from topwaters, crankbaits to live bait.  When hooked they can make rocket runs, dig their head down towards the deep or sometimes will even jump.  I had a monster pickerel that I caught at Millsboro Pond on a swim fluke once do two tarpon-walk like jumps.  It measured at 28 inches and was one of the best fights I have ever had.

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While Pickerel will readily hit a lot of lures and are caught year-round; the best time and way to catch them is in Early Spring with suspending or slow-sinking jerkbaits.  I have caught a ton of pickerel this way including some monsters.  The key is to fish slow….well kinda slow.  In other words; you still jerk the jerkbait hard but pause in between jerks.  You are actually bringing in the lure with the rod tip and just collecting line back onto the reel in between jerks.  The sudden movement of the jerkbait and then the stop which then causes the lure to just stay still; while suspending in the water column is what triggers the hits.  The pickerel is basically stalking the lure and then pounces on it when it stops.  Now remember do not fall in love with the shoreline.

sussex county, kent county, delaware, pickerel
26.5 inch Pickerel caught this past March at Unicorn Lake on Shadow Rap 11 Slow sinking jerkbait

In early Spring; the Pickerel (same with bass) are usually found in open water.  Make long casts in the middle of the pond near drop-offs, underwater stumps and shallow flats.  You can cover a lot of water with these baits. My favorite ones to use are Yo-Zuri’s SP, Rapala Husky Jerks and the Rapala Shadow Rap II slow sinker.  As for colors; I like anything that flashes.  The pickerel don’t seem to have a preference.

Now I have fished almost every pond in Delaware/Maryland numerous times and have caught a fair share of pickerel from a lot of them.  But there are some that are better at producing numbers plus size.  Millsboro Pond has a ton of Pickerel including some monsters.  As I mentioned before; I caught a 28 incher there years ago (prior to cell phones!).  Recently, I caught a 26.5 incher from Unicorn Lake this Spring while using a jerkbait.  I have also caught some citation-sized pickerel over the years at places like Derby Pond, McColley’s Pond and Abbotts Millpond.  My wife has caught some 24 inch plus pickerel from a few places also including Craig’s Pond and Diamond Pond. Both of these were caught on in-line spinners…..old time lures never stop catching fish; new-age anglers just stop using them.

delaware, pickerel, sussex county, mill ponds
24 inch Pickerel caught at Craig’s Millpond on a ¼ ounce Joe’s Fly in-line Spinner

I am aware that there are a lot of you out there right now; shaking your heads.  Pickerel?!?  They are slimy, and break my line too much etc.  But they fight as hard any freshwater game fish that you will catch in our area.  Instead of shaking your heads at them…. Get them to shake your rod tips.  Go catch a 26+ inch Chain Pickerel on 6 lb. test on a 5’6” Medium action rod like I just did last month… trust me you will have fun.  You can still shake your head as your taking the selfie and texting your buddies your monster pickerel catch…..just wait to smile after the photo is taken.

John Kwoka

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