Will The Real Pickerel Please Stand Up?

The familiar shaped/colored fish in this picture might just surprise you as to its true identity. For starters, it is not a Pike. Nor is it a Muskie. Nor is it a Tiger Muskie. This fish actually puts all arguments to rest when it comes to the Walleye vs Pickerel debate. 

We know, right about now some of you are so lost that you may not read on but you need to.

The fish in this picture is indeed a Pickerel.

Wait what… you say? You Fish’n Canada guys…are full of crap!!!

Well, friends, we beg to differ… at least some of the time.

The fish pictured is called a Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) in the Esocidae (- pikes) family of fish… which of course contains both Northern Pike as well as Muskellunge.

Getting back to the image and our story, Fish’n Canada’s good friend Mike Burriss and his daughter Jen were recently on their first Lake Ontario Smallmouth bass mission of 2021. They were fishing in the eastern basin and having a great day when all of a sudden they tied into the above-pictured Chain Pickerel (the first one Mike’s ever caught or seen).

“I’ve known Mike for most of my life,” says Fish’n Canada’s Pete Bowman “and every time he goes fishing, I wait patiently for the story… and usually it’s got an interesting element, just like this fish.”

If you are wondering what that device on a pole is in the front right corner of the image, that is Mike’s Garmin Panoptix LiveScope pole-mounted transducer. We asked him if he “scoped” any fish, his answer was an interesting one.

“Didn’t need to,” he replied, “all the fish were ultra-shallow in gin clear water. We could see everything with our eyes. Two weeks from now though, my LiveScope will take over and my eyes will then watch my screens.”

MIKE’S FISH SPARKED A MEMORY

“When I saw the picture Mike sent us,” say’s Fish’n Canada’s Angelo Viola, “It reminded me about a Chain Pickerel I caught in that same area in the mid-eighties.” 

Ang was pre-fishing for a bass tournament out of Kingston with big brother Reno when the incidental catch took place. He goes on to say “we were throwing spinnerbaits towards the mouth of Lawrence Creek that spills into the back of Collins Bay when it hit. When I got it to the boat, I thought it was just a small pike, but Reno identified it as a chain pickerel. Hadn’t seen one before and haven’t seen one since.”  

This is the area that Ang caught his one and only Chain Pickerel

OTHER REPORTED CHAIN PICKEREL CATCHES IN ONTARIO

As we looked further into Ontario Chain Pickerel history, we found that the same area where Ang and Mike had their incidental catches, the eastern basin of Lake Ontario, has a history of Chain Pickerel encounters.

In April of 2008 a commercial fisherman reported an incidentally caught Chain Pickerel to the MNRF. 

Then on the 16th of September, 2009, an MNRF field crew captured another Pickerel while gill-netting on the St Lawrence River near the Thousand Islands.

On 9 March 2010, two Chain Pickerel that had reportedly been kept frozen for approximately one year since their original capture sometime between 2 and 12 April 2009 were turned in by a local commercial fisherman.

Here is another story posted by Global news back in 2020 where a young angler caught a Chain Pickerel near Wolfe Island which is located in the same general area as all the above reports.

In the article, they hit upon the concern of this predatory species possibly taking over the area. The MNRF stated that “it doesn’t seem to be a concern yet here in the Kingston region.”

They continue, “In the almost 10 years since we found this fish, … has it really increased in numbers?” said Lake, “between the commercial fishers being out all the time, anglers being out.

“Our own crews being out, doing lots of netting, we haven’t seen evidence that they have exploded in numbers.”

A GREAT READ

If you would like to read an excellent report on the above subject, then go ahead and download this PDF First Occurrence of Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) in Ontario by biologists Jim Hoyle and Colin Lake.

In it they give info about the species, they map out and discuss previous reported catches (as written above), question how the fish got to the area and the possible impact on the other fish in the area that have similar habitat requirements, such as Largemouth Bass. 

Hopefully, they will include Mike’s and Ang’s catches in a future report. 

ARE CHAIN PICKEREL ELSEWHERE IN CANADA?

Chain Pickerel are indeed located in other parts of Canada. The provinces include Quebec (south of the St. Lawrence River and east of Montreal),

southern New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The species is not native to New Brunswick or Nova Scotia and in fact, they are reported to come in from the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. 

CONCLUSION

There is a lesson to be learned here, and it is if you catch a fish that you are unfamiliar with, do your best to figure out what that species is. First, go to local anglers and ask their opinion, second hit the world wide web and search fish pictures and lastly, if you think it is a rare species to the area, report it to the MNRF. There’s no harm in trying and it could be of great benefit for the future of not only the area of your capture but of the species caught and more importantly, the existing species that reside there.

And finally, our question is answered: The real Pickerel indeed did stand up!

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