Pickerel, known locally in East Texas as "pike," "jacks," "jackfish," or "chainsides," inhabit quiet backwaters of lakes and rivers where they hide in heavy cover and wait for prey to swim within striking range.
Although pickerel and largemouth bass share shallow, weedy habitat, pickerel cruise much less than bass, preferring instead to lay in ambush. Because bass and pickerel habitats overlap, an angler working a lure along the edge of a cypress break never knows which fish will strike.
Caddo Lake, with its labyrinth of flooded cypress brakes and tremendous quantity of submerged vegetation such as coontail, parrot feather, and fanwort, as well as emergent vegetation like yellow water lily and American lotus, provides ideal habitat.
In Texas, pickerel are most active November through March when water temperatures typically range between 35º F and 55º F. During this time they feed voraciously and can be found in three to eight feet of watereasily accessible to fly fishers using floating lines.
They move to deeper water and become less active during the warmer months. Pickerel spawn in the winter when water temperatures range between 47º F and 50º F. Spawning females lay thousands of eggs over aquatic weed beds and provide no parental care of the nest or fry.
The fertilized eggs adhere to the vegetation and hatch after about 10 days. The young pickerel are vulnerable to nearly all types of aquatic predators including other pickerel. "I've sampled lots of adult fish with their stomachs full of young pickerel," says Ryan.
Chain pickerel grow rapidly in Texas waters. The young fish feed primarily on insects until they are large enough to prey on other fish. Studies show that Caddo Lake pickerel grow from 13 to 15 inches in their first year and often exceed 20 inches after three years. Fish older than three years are uncommon and rarely exceed 26 inches in length.
Flies, Lures or Bait
Medium-weight bass tackle will handle pickerel nicely. Ryan, an avid pickerel fisherman, recommends spin or bait-cast gear with reels loaded with 8- to 12-pound-test line.
Fly fishers will do well with balanced 6- to 8-weight tackle and a variety of streamers and deer hair bugs, sizes 2 through 6, tied bend-back (hook point up) or with monofilament weed guards.
"They'll hit a variety of lures and spinner baitseven plastic worms," says Ryan. "The important thing to remember is that pickerel are ambush predators; they lay in the weeds and wait for their prey to swim by. Run your lure parallel to the vegetationthat way you're more likely to put your lure in front of a fish. Or if you've got vegetation below the surface, run your lure over it."
On Lake O' the Pines and other areas with less aquatic vegetation, pickerel sometimes use structures such as flooded timber, docks and stumps. Longtime Caddo Lake guide Norm Presson, who owns and operates Mossy Brake Lodge on Caddo Lake's Taylor Island, recommends the Floating Rapala, the Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue and especially in-line spinners in the Firetiger color pattern.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication