As a chill creeps into the air pickerel fishing in spots like tidal tributary rivers and the Eastern Shore millponds will only get better and better. And wherever you live in the Mid-Atlantic region, there’s a good chance some decent pickerel fishing is close to home. In fact, not only will you find them in the fresher tidal zones of Chesapeake tributaries and those millponds, pickerel fishing can be good in lakes from Delaware clear down through Virginia. If you want to target this species over the winter, be sure to employ these tactics.

fishing for pickerel
This pickerel was a sucker for a shad dart tipped with a bull minnow, pulled along slowly beneath a bobber in a Chesapeake tributary.
  • Stick with live bait. A live bull minnow is tough to beat, when it comes to tempting a pickerel into biting. Popular methods include:
  1.  Using them to tip a shad dart or marabou jig, by lip-hooking them in through the bottom jaw and out through the top jaw, and swimming them slowly along under a bobber.
  2. Jaw-hooking them on a bare long-shank hook, and wobbling the minnow slowly along the surface.
  3. Tipping a Road Runner jig with a jaw-hooked bull minnow, and working it slowly along at mid-depth.
  • Fish over weedbeds. It’s surprising how long some weeds last through the winter, and as you can tell from a glance at a pickerel’s flanks, they use those weeds for camouflage. Holes in the weedbeds and fishing along the edges of points the weeds create underwater are top hotspots to target.
  • Cast parallel to trees or logs laying in the water. Hiding under or next to a horizontal tree trunk is another of the pickerel’s favorite ambush points.
  • Cast near docks. Again, pickerel use them to hide around before pouncing on their prey.
  • Keep your bait moving, but moving slowly. Pickerel like an offering that appears to be trying to get away. But like all fish, at this time of year their metabolism isn’t exactly like that of a hummingbird, so keep things slow.
  • Set the hook rapidly on a strike. You’ll miss some bites this way, but those pickerel have extremely sharp teeth. Give them time to get your hook all the way into the back of their mouth, and a cut-off is in your future. And obviously, never try to hold a pickerel by the lip!