Fly Fishing for Chain Pickerel - By Rob Woodruff

Fish Bones

Well-known member
Reaction score
Fly Fishing for Chain Pickerel
By Rob Woodruff

Late winter offers few choices to fly fishermen in our part of the world. Trips to tail waters in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas, pursuing winter put and take trout and checking out rumors of the start of the Sand Bass runs comprise most of the on the water opportunities. But there is one prime target that goes overlooked at this time of year. A fish that pursues flies in shallow water, hits hard, fights hard and even jumps on occasion. Chain Pickerel.

Locally known as "Jackfish" or "Pike" the native range of Chain Pickerel occurs east of a line that roughly follows I-45. The population density and average size of the fish seems to increase as you head east. The Texas state record is from Caddo Lake and weighed in at close to 5 1/2 pounds. The world record was caught in Georgia and weighed in at 9lbs. 6oz. Lakes with good populations of Pickerel in Texas include Caddo, Hawkins, Pat Mayse, Lake o’ the Pines, Raven, Daingerfield and Toledo Bend. Lake Bistineau near Shreveport, Louisiana also contains good populations.

Top flies for Pickerel are streamers and poppers. Streamers or poppers in white, chartreuse, yellow and silver (and combinations thereof) work well most days, but on some days the fish seem to prefer darker colors like black, olive and purple. A 3 or 4 weight rod with a floating line is a good match, and a sink tip fly line is not a bad idea on sunny days.

Tactics are based on the weather and time of day. During low light level periods (morning, evening and cloudy days) look for Pickerel in grassy coves and on flats. During these conditions, they will often be found in a few inches of water right along the shore. During the afternoon periods on bright days, Pickerel seek the low light levels provided by Lilly Pad fields, the shade of shoreline trees and deep water. A bend back style fly is the best choice for working through the Lilly Pads with a minimum of hang-ups. In more open water look for drop offs and break lines near grassy areas and fish deeper either by adding weight or a sink tip to your fly line.

Like their cousins the Northern Pike and Muskellunge, Pickerel are well equipped in the dental department. A pair of long forceps or a Ketchum Release is a must have item for releasing the Pickerel. If you choose to use your fingers, pack a first aid kit. Although some books advise the use of wire leaders, I have found that 2x or 3x tippet along with fastidious checking of leaders and knots is the best choice. Make it a habit to check your leader for fraying after every fish landed and every strike missed.

Pickerel offer a good opportunity to tune up your casting arm before the spring season and many of the waters they occur in are pretty and peaceful at this time of year. They also are a good excuse to get that kayak, belly boat or personal watercraft out on the water. If you don’t have a small watercraft of your own, canoes and rowboats are available for rent at Caddo, Daingerfield and Huntsville State Parks. It is especially important to wear a life jacket while on the water in the winter. The insulation of a life jacket is almost as important as the floatation it provides if you are immersed in cold water.

I think that Pickerel are a great do it yourself trip. However, I will be offering a limited number of half and full day guided trips in my drift boat during February and early March for those that wish to let somebody else row while they enjoy the fishing.

Feel free to contact me if you have further questions about pursuing this great wintertime fly fishing quarry.

Rob Woodruff
Email [email protected]
Web Site Woodruff Guide Service



Well-known member
Reaction score

The Pickerel can be difficult to bait to the fly, but when you do it is one helluva fish on a fly rod ... sort of like a Muskie on a lightweight rod.

Beware of the teeth ... and, if you try to handle them with your bare hand, they are almost as slippery as an eel.



New member
Reaction score
Moncton, New Brunswick
Hey Rob, I love fly fishing for Chain pickerel. They aren't only a relative of the pike they are just as crazy and vicious making for so much fly fishing fun.

My first experience with a pickerel on the fly was with a friend who took me fishing for trout in an area that was flooded. I had a little pickerel come flying right out of the water as I was drawing my fly off the water for another cast.

It was just a tiny guy but my first chain pickerel. I had never even seen one before that, but it hooked me on pickerel for the past 25 years or there abouts.

I've had a few times that I didn't get my fingers out of the way fast enough but never got sliced up enough to see a doctor. :)

I have two fishing buddies I met through my fishing web site a few years ago. One has never done any fly fishing, the other fly fishing for trout and Atlantic salmon.

This coming fishing season they are both going to join me on a few fly fishing trips for chain pickerel and smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth are a blast on the fly as well.

I've got cabin fever here so I'm really looking forward to April 15 when I can finally get my fishing gear out again.

I have two float tubes so I can always take a friend. The action is unbelievable if you've never tried fly fishing right at the water line. The action is just that much more exciting.

I have never been in a kayak, I have a hard time keeping my balance in my canoe.

James Mann
Moncton, New Brunswick

The Joy of Fly Fishing New Brunswick
Last edited: