Oneida Lake Education Initiative

"Your gateway to understanding Oneida Lake"

Chain Pickerel

click for full size


  • Oneida Lake individuals may be as long as 25 inches, as heavy as 3.5 pounds, and be more than 6 years old
  • Eat insects as juveniles, then move to fish and crayfish as adults
  • Great sport fish, especially for ice fishing


The chain pickerel is a modest-sized fish that is green to bronze in color. Its fully scaled cheeks and gill covers distinguish it from the northern pike and muskellunge, while its large size and the distinct chain link marks on its sides differentiate it from other pickerels. The chain pickerel has eight sensory pores on the underside of the lower jaw and a conspicuous dark bar beneath each eye that extends straight down or slightly forward.


The chain pickerel is widely distributed in lakes and rivers south of the Adirondacks and east of the Genesee River. Pickerel prefer quiet, slow moving waters with heavy weed growth, but are sometimes found in deeper waters without vegetation. Chain pickerel are hardy, and can tolerate extreme conditions including acidic waters to a pH of 3.8. Young pickerel feed on crustaceans and insects until they reach 150mm (6 inches). As adults, they eat mostly fish and crayfish, and frequently target injured and slow-moving prey. Pickerel feed both at night and during the day.


Chain pickerel are among the first fish to spawn after ice-out in the spring (April-May). Mature adults migrate into swampy or marshy backwater areas where they swim slowly in pairs. Spawning may take a day or two, and females spread their adhesive eggs off and on during this time. Early spawning times improve the newborn's chances of survival by providing extra time for growth. This then allows the juveniles to feed on eggs of other fish with later spawning periods.


Chain pickerel are a favored game fish in New York, and are often caught ice fishing. When hooked, they are capable of explosive runs, and their meat is delicious. To eliminate problems with bones, the fillets are often ground and formed into fish patties.


To learn more about Chain Pickerel ...

Chain Pickerel Factsheet (pdf - 69kb)

Oneida Lake Education Initiative Fish Homepage