Chain Pickerel in the Grass
For a few seasons when ice receded and snow melted into grass laden lakes, thoughts would turn to fish with broad heads and full of teeth otherwise named the northern pike (Esox lucius). Unfortunately, each early spring passed and as they did the dream became a passing thought as I gravitated toward pursuits of steelhead or early season brown trout. Since then, however, I’ve grown to appreciate turning similar visions into venturing after species I haven’t yet caught.
Recently, I met a young man who told me he enjoyed fly fishing and would like to venture out on the water sometime together. What I didn’t realize, however, was Peter Mock-Jordan’s level of knowledge about the trending developments in the sport, his accomplished fly tying abilities, and what a student he is of the art of fly casting.
He suggested we spend a cloudy afternoon casting flies to chain pickerel (Esox niger) on Big Creek Lake near Mobile, Alabama. Admitting I was not familiar with the chain pickerel, Peter explained it is a relative of the northern pike. My interest peaked. After all, it was the first week of March and 1000 miles north the snow and ice melt was beginning to take shape. In years past, it wouldn’t have been long before those annual thoughts would be creeping in again. Peter went on to say that the chain pickerel doesn’t only resemble the northern pike in physical nature, but also in its’ predatory feeding behavior. The chain pickerel, otherwise known by locals in south Alabama as a jack or southern pike, grows to lengths of 30 inches.
With Hobie kayaks to patrol the banks of Big Creek Lake, Peter and I launched on a mild afternoon, albeit a breezy one. Fortunately, we had the benefit of cloud cover. The fishing started slowly, but once we found protection from the wind Peter hooked up with a bass. As the afternoon stretched into evening the predatory nature of the chain pickerel became evident. Peter cast a fly to a small weed strewn channel of water, and seconds later a charging wake pounced. I’ve had fisherman tell me the moment a fish takes a fly is their favorite phase of fighting a trophy. I sometimes wonder if these anglers have ever lost one of those fish. Once a big one gets away, I would venture to say every angler’s next thought goes back to the hook set. What did I do wrong? What could I have done different? Well, as you can guess by now, Peter’s thoughts likely went back in time after a heavy chain pickerel attacked, fought, turned, and kept going.
That was the beginning of a really productive hour and a half of fishing. Peter quickly hooked up with another one and this time he brought a chain pickerel to hand.
Photograph by Aaron Rubel
Not long after Peter landed the first of the day, I connected with a fish that didn’t feel familiar. I had cast the bend back fly pattern Peter graciously tied, slowly retrieved the line between my slightly curved index finger and bottom half of the cork handle, and then felt a sudden pulse through my hands that initiated adrenaline that we anglers are so addicted to! Peter recommended a six weight for casting the flies needed and to effectively land a chain pickerel. On this day though, I was casting a Temple Fork Outfitters 8’9” 5wt Finesse Series with a nine foot, 25 lb leader tied loop to loop to the fly line. Barbed hooks are not advised when fishing for chain pickerel. Their mouth is so full of teeth, the barb is really not necessary. Additionally, if you have any chance at releasing one of these handsome and toothy specimens, the barb simply needs pinched. After fighting the surprisingly strong pulling fish for its size, I landed a new species, the chain pickerel.
Before disembarking from Big Creek Lake, Lost Angler founder Peter Mock-Jordan and I landed seven fish, including six chain pickerel. Best of all though, experiencing new water with a fellow fly angler and getting to know a new species was the highlight that pleasantly turned into what I consider a milestone among my many years of fly fishing.
About the author:
Aaron Rubel is a fly fishing columnist in Great Days Outdoors Magazine and blogs on http://icastinayak.com/. He is a husband, father, and fishing team member of Hobie kayaks, TFO fishing rods, and Maui Jim Sunglasses.