How to Catch Monster Chain Pickerel

Chain Gang Cermele shows off two nice pickerel caught in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Photos by Joe Cermele

Little pickerel are a dime a dozen and easy to catch, but you want the big dog, and that takes a little more planning. Whether you’re camped out on the pond or live close to a soggy, boggy area, here’s a scheme that will lead you to the biggest predator in that dark water.

Friday Evening
Prep some 3- to 5-inch floating stickbaits, such as the Rapala Slashbait, by replacing their tail trebles with single Siwash hooks. If you want to get fancy, dress those hooks with a little white bucktail or flash material. Getting rid of one treble will make hook removal much easier.

Saturday Morning
Big pickerel often hold in deeper water but within easy reach of shallow flats where baitfish and bluegills congregate. Scout for old creek channels in ponds or bogs. Note any structure, such as weeds or stumps on the channel edge, as well as its proximity to shallow water or lily-pad fields. Cast into the deep water and work your stickbait back with erratic jerks and long pauses.

Saturday Afternoon
If you weren't able to draw out a big fish with lures, rig a 3- or 4-inch shiner under a float, setting the depth so it hovers just off the bottom in the deeper lanes. Pickerel are more likely to attack shallow at low light, so when the sun gets high, live bait fished deep is usually the better strategy.

Saturday Evening
As the sun sets, trophy pickerel start hunting aggressively. Tie on a 31⁄2-inch Super Spook Jr. and work it parallel to weed edges, stumps, or deadfalls in shallow water that's close to the depths. If a fish tracks but doesn't commit, speed up your retrieve.

Sunday
Still haven't landed a monster? Rig a 4-inch white Zoom Fluke weedless on a wide-gap hook. Cast to the edge where shallow water meets deep and let the soft plastic flutter to the bottom. Let it lie still for a few seconds before giving it a subtle twitch. This mimics a dying baitfish that a big pickerel won't have to work hard to chase. If temps were cool overnight, this can be the best approach for sluggish fish. In the evening, swing for the fences. Spend the afternoon catching a few small bluegills. Poke one eye out of the bait to make it swim in a circle, and live-line it on the edge of the deep water.

Essential Lure

Photo by Cliff Gardiner & John Keller

Rapala Slashbait: Look for deep spots that are close to shallows where baitfish hold. Cast into the deep end, then retrieve the lure erratically.