In the hierarchy of the Esox family, chain pickerel sit squarely at the bottom. Most won’t get as heavy as a mediocre pike, and even a trophy pickerel is snack-size for the average muskie. What pickerel lack in size, however, they make up for with tenacity and abundance. If you’ve got an ultralight spinning rod, chains can make it bend before all the more glamorous species wake up. The time to strike is right after the ice melts in the shallows, or if you didn’t get any ice, during that first noticeably warmer week in March. Here’s the attack plan.
1. Rove the Cove
Shallow coves off main lakes are prime early-season pickerel haunts. If there’s a dark, heat-absorbing bottom, you’ve hit pay dirt. Even if there’s ice out deeper, chains will move shallow during the warmest part of the day to feed and cut the chill.
2. Rotten Gold
Though the lake may be lacking lush vegetation, pickerel will gravitate to any salad they can find, even if it’s last year’s shriveled pads on a shallow bottom, or some scraggly dead weeds left in the transition zone between the flat and deeper water.
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3. Walk It Off
On a warm day, pickerel will literally hold in inches of water tight to the bank, and they won’t hesitate to nail a topwater. Lures like small Spooks that can be worked slowly are extra effective. Cast parallel to the bank and be sure to hit any potholes within the flat.
4. Good Wood
Pickerel are ambush predators, and when the flats are void of veggies, an isolated stump or deadfall may be their only cover option. Hit every piece of wood you can find; if there’s a chain on it, you’ll usually know with cast No. 1.
5. Hit the Slope
Don’t assume every pickerel is holding skinny. Descending edges are prime as well, although fish here may need more coaxing. Give a small suspending stickbait a few violent jerks followed by a long pause. Brace for the T-bone when the lure’s not moving.