John Byrd, an angler from Caroline County, was left astounded as he pulled in a chain pickerel (Esox niger) on a recent fishing trip. As the fish came out of the water, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he noticed its mouth adorned with a stunning shade of blue. “I’d never seen one that color! And I’ve been fishing in that pond for more than 20 years!” Byrd, of Bowling Green, Virginia, said.
Using a Whopper Plopper lure, he managed to hook an impressive 11 ½-inch chain pickerel from a 14-acre private pond in Caroline County. Being a retired veteran, he decided to keep the catch and promptly got in touch with Scott Herrmann, a regional fisheries biologist from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Herrmann clarified that the fish’s uniqueness was due to a “wild genetic pigment mutation,” though it appeared to be normal in all other aspects.
“The coloration expressed by the blue pickerel is extremely rare,” said Herrmann. “It pretty much falls into the one-in-a-lifetime category of catches. The normal coloration expressed in the green of a chain pickerel is from the xanthins of the yellow pigments. Blue pickerel express the rare mutation that is axanthic.”
Byrd kept the fish and is having it mounted.
The chain pickerel, a native fish of Virginia, is widespread in rivers, streams, reservoirs, and impoundments. Sporting a slender, elongated body, its usual coloration consists of yellowish to greenish tones (appearing almost black in young individuals) with distinct black lines arranged in a reticulated or chain-like pattern on its sides. These pickerels have fully scaled cheeks and gill covers. While the blue-mouth mutation has been observed in chain pickerel in Maryland and Pennsylvania, it remains quite rare.