Chain Pickerel Habitat, Spawning, and More

Chain Pickerel are a species of North American freshwater fishes, native to various watersheds in New York State. This fish species can be found all along the Atlantic slope; from as far north as Canada, into the northeast, and down through the southern part of the country and west to Texas.

Chain pickerel and northern pike are both a part of the pike family. The most obvious difference to these members of the pike family is the disparity in their coloration. Pike are much darker in color than their chain pickerel cousins. Other kind of pickerel found in NYS include, redfin pickerel and grass pickerel.

Chain pickerel take about 4-5 years to reach the average weight of 2 lbs and can live up to around 9 years. The NYS record for chain pickerel is 8 pounds 1 ounce. These predators are a smaller fish, which can be found in lakes and large rivers, usually associated with submerged aquatic vegetation.

They are highly sought after freshwater fish by anglers due to their voracious appetite and fighting spirit when caught on the line – they make a popular sport fish.

Young child poses with large fish caught in ideal chain pickerel habitat

How to Identify Chain Pickerel

  • The average size of 15-20 inches long, some can get up to 3 ft long
  • Average weight is around 2-4 lbs, but NYS record is 8 lbs 1 oz
  • long and slender fish
  • torpedo shaped with an elongated duck-billed snout and body
  • protruding lower jaw with sharp teeth
  • distinct dark chain-like pattern along its body
  • coloration ranging from light-greenish yellow to a dark green on its side – note: h northern pike are distinctively darker-green in color
  • a dark bar or line underneath each eye
  • yellow eyes
  • fully scaled gill covers and cheeks

Chain Pickerel Habitat

Chain Pickerel prefer a warmer water than many other freshwater species, with the optimal temperature range being in the upper 70s. Chain pickerel habitat is most often found in weedy lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, as well as slow-moving reaches of warm-water streams. They can also be found in brackish water, such as estuaries and tidal creeks.

To escape hot weather they are known to seek out shady spots away from direct sunlight. Chain pickerel live mostly in shallow water (less than 10 feet deep). In the fall, when water temperatures begin to drop, these fish will often move to the outside edges of weed beds for protection from the cold. Clear waters with submerged aquatic vegetation provide the best conditions for Chain Pickerel to thrive, as they use this submerged vegetation and cover to ambush prey, as they are enthusiastic predators

Places to Fish for Chain Pickerel

Chain Pickerel can be found throughout NYS. Below we’ve combined input from a number of sources to provide you a comprehensive list of of the best places to fish for chain pickerel in New York State.

Online Research

From our online research, we’ve identified these five locations as among the best chain pickerel hotspots.

  1. Cross Lake – Located in St. Lawrence County this lake has a reputation as one of the best places to fish for Chain Pickerel in the state. This medium-sized lake offers anglers plenty of weed beds and structures that serve as perfect hideouts for these predators.
  2. Otisco Lake – Situated in Onondaga County, Otisco Lake is a popular Chain Pickerel fishing destination. The lake’s deep water and abundant cover make it attractive for these fish.
  3. Seneca Lake – Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes region, Seneca Lake offers anglers some of the best Chain Pickerel fishing opportunities in the state. Its many coves provide plenty of cover for the fish and its deep waters make it a great spot to target them.
  4. Canandaigua Lake – Another Finger Lakes destination, Canandaigua Lake is known for its excellent Chain Pickerel fishing opportunities. It has plenty of underwater structures and weeds beds that attract the fish.
  5. Oneida Lake – Located in the central part of NYS, Oneida Lake is one of the best lakes for Chain Pickerel fishing in the state. Its many shallow coves and weed beds provide great cover for these predators, making it a popular destination for anglers targeting them.


The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation suggests that some of the best chain pickerel fishing in NYS can be found in its Regions 1, 3, 5,6, 7, and 8 – see the below map. 

Map of NYS DEC Regions 1-9
This is originally appeared on the NYS DEC Website.

NYS DEC Region 1 

Four ponds on the Peconic River: 

  • Deep Pond
  • Artist Lake
  • Twin Ponds
  • Forge Pond

NYS DEC Region 

  • Swinging Bridge Reservoir
  • Lake Superior
  • Harriman Park Lakes

NYS DEC Region 5

  • Lake George
  • Brant Lake
  • Saratoga Lake
  • Lake Champlain

NYS DEC Region 6

  • Black River
  • Eastern basin of Lake Ontario
  • St. Lawrence River

NYS DEV Region 7

  • South end of Skaneateles Lake
  • North end of Cayuga Lake
  • Madison Reservoir
  • Oneida Lake
  • Upper Little York Lake
  • Tully Lake

NYS DEC Region 8

  • Hemlock Lake
  • Canadice Lake.

Chain Pickerel Natural Prey and Eating Habits

Chain Pickerel are voracious predators, often hiding among vegetation, and ambushing prey as they swim by. Chain Pickerel is an opportunistic feeder that uses its keen vision and sharp teeth to quickly catch unsuspecting prey. In addition, it has been known to take advantage of wounded or injured baitfish. Chain Pickerel typically feed during the day and become less active during the night.

The best natural prey for Chain Pickerel include:

  1. Small fish such as Yellow Perch, White Suckers, and Minnows
  2. Amphibians such as Frogs and Tadpoles
  3. Insects such as Moths, Dragonflies, and Beetles
  4. Crustaceans such as Crayfish and Shrimps
  5. Worms, Grubs, and Leeches

Spawning Habits of Chain Pickerel

Chain Pickerel are amongst the first fish to spawn after ice-out in spring. The chain pickerel spawn usually occurs between April and May in the early spring. Adult chain pickerel are usually solitary fish, but during spawning season, one or two male pickerel will travel alongside a female to spawn. Early spawning occurs in order to increase the chances of survival for young chain pickerel, since they are larger than other young fish and newly hatched species.

As the adult chain pickerel migrate into swampy or marshy backwater areas, they spread their sticky eggs on vegetation and other surfaces. An adult chain pickerel female can lay up to 5000 eggs at once, which will take around 6-12 days to hatch. After hatching the young chain pickerel remain in shallow waters close to shorelines.

Fishing for Chain Pickerel

chain pickerel in the snow alongside a fishing rod.

Fishing for Chain Pickerel is a popular activity in NYS and is best done in the spring and fall, which offer some of the best catching opportunities. Though anglers looking to catch this fish species through the winter months can also have success with ice fishing, as these predators winter in deeper waters before spawning occurs.

The most effective technique when targeting Chain Pickerel is jigging and trolling with live bait such as minnows, shad and worms. Lures such as spoons and crankbaits can also work in certain conditions. As Chain Pickerel are known to strike quickly, anglers should be prepared for a fast-paced day of fishing on the water.

DEC regulations for Chain Pickerel

Chain pickerel are a popular game fish in NYS. As such, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulates fishing for Chain Pickerel in the state. Open season for Pickerel is between May 1 and March 15th. The fish must be a minimum of 15″ long, with a catch limit of 5 per day. Anglers should also be aware that angling periods and size limits may differ in certain areas, so it is important to check local regulations before fishing.

The DEC also discourages the stocking of this species outside of its native range in order to prevent any potential damage to existing aquatic ecosystems. By following these regulations, anglers can help ensure the health of Chain Pickerel populations throughout New York State.

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