Late winter and early spring is a great time to catch torpedo-shaped pre-spawn chain pickerel, which are on a mission to fatten up as the waters begin to warm. You can fish for ‘em many ways, but one of the most effective is to try trolling – and it’s as easy as one, two, three. Well, and also four.

  1. Choose a flashy lure, like a spoon, a swimbait with lots of glitter, a blade-bait, a spinner, or a metallic-finish swimming plug. Plugs are an excellent choice for those fishing from self-propelled fishing machines, since they run at a predictable depth at variable speeds and won’t sink to bottom if you pause to catch your breath.
  2. Set a speed that keeps your lure working properly and running just two or three feet beneath the surface. Most of the time, a slow walking speed is just about right.
  3. Plot a course that takes you by points, drop-offs, and weedbed edges in the three- to seven-foot depth range. If there are any submerged weedbeds that survived the winter and only come up to mid-depth in the area you’re fishing, you’re in serious luck and should be sure focus your efforts there.
  4. When you get a hit, don’t slow down. There are two reasons you want to maintain forward motion. First off, it’s common for the pickerel to take a swing and a miss, and they’re much more likely to come back for another swing if the bait they’re chasing keeps trying to swim away. Second, at the slow speeds you’ll be moving it’s also common for a fish to appear to be hooked when it’s really just grabbed the lure, and/or the hook is just superficially set. Don’t slow down until you have the rod in your hands and have applied enough pressure to be sure that hook has actually found purchase.
angler holds up a pickerel
David was quite happy, to fight this chunky chain pickerel up to the boat.

Editor's Note: Chain pickerel do have tasty meat, however, it's laced with small "Y" bones and you can't fillet them like most other fish. Ambitious and very hungry anglers may try cutting them all out, but be forewarned that this is a labor-intensive proposition and will take quite a while. Most anglers simply enjoy the feisty fight a pickerel provides, take a picture or two, and gently release the fish back into the water to fight again another day. For more information about this fascinating fish, check out the Maryland DNR Fisheries Facts Pickerel page.