(Correction, so there is another Esox in Texas. The Redfin Pickerel. They don't get very big and their not really a species you can go out and specifically target. The state record came from Toledo Bend and weighed less then 3/4 of a lb.)
The largest chain pickerel on record was caught in Homerville, Georgia in 1961. It was 29.5 inches long, with a weight of 9 pounds 6 ounces. Although the national record is over nine pounds, the Texas state record is 4.75 pounds (23.75 inches). Like its close relatives, northern pike and muskellunge, the chain pickerel is equipped with a large mouth, well adapted for piscivory. The lower jaw, which extends further forward than the upper jaw, is equipped with four sensory pores on the underside. The dorsal and anal fins are set well back on the body. There is a distinctive pattern of interlocking dark bands on the back and sides that is reminiscent of a chain-link fence. During their first year they may reach 12-14 inches in length. Growth slows somewhat during the second year when they may attain lengths of 1.5 feet. In Texas they typically reach sizes of 3-4 pounds and about 2 feet in length.
Leaving Dallas at 6am for the 2 hour drive to Daingerfield State Park I was greeted with air temps in the mid 30s and light rain. It felt more like a morning to be heading out to hunt ducks instead of fishing. The predicted high for the day wasn't much more than the current temperature. I was a little hesitant about how the fishing would be, I was afraid the cold rain/weather may have dropped the water temps to fast and the fish would have lock jaw.
Lake Daingerfield is relatively small and is perfect for kayaks and small watercraft's. The park has a 5mph speed limit if you do decide to put a gas powered boat in the lake. The state recently put $5 million into this park renovating cabins, swim beach and nature trails. There is a $4 per person entry fee to enter the park and the cabin rates and availability can be found on the Daingerfield State Park website.
Once arriving at the parks' boat ramp; getting the kayak unloaded and getting my rods rigged up I was ready to hit the water. The lake is surrounded by 50-60' tall pine trees making this lake beautiful. With light winds out of the North-North/East I made a short paddle to a protective cove full of lily pads. Chain pickerel and weeds go together. Masters of the art of ambush, pickerel lie in or just above aquatic vegetation such as milfoil, cabbage, and lily pads, often facing outward toward open water, watching for unsuspecting prey. I started tossing a deer head zonker fly around the floating lily pads and submerged vegetation. It wasn't long before a fish quickly swirled and engulfed the fly. As you can see from the picture below there is flash hanging out of the gills along with fur and hair all wrapped up around the fishes jaws.
Pickerel are not afraid of attacking large baits as you can see from the below picture. This fly was producing really well until it was bite off. Its crazy how easily 20lb fluorocarbon will cut if it gets caught just right in one of the many needle sharp teeth these fish have. A nickname Chain Pickerel have is jack fish, I think little guys like the below fish is a perfect description of said nickname.
The fishing continued to be great all morning. After the 3rd or 4th fish I got bite off and lost my only surface fly. I switched to a red and yellow seaducer and immediately began catching fish again. There where a lot of sunken lily pads 12 to 18" below the surface of the water. I found that if I let the fly sink to just below the level of those sunken lily pads the pickerel would blitz out from underneath one to eat the fly. The water was very clear and even though there was cloud cover and light rain I still saw many of the fish strike.
I was surprised to also pick up 2 decent bass, they weren't all that long but man they were fat and healthy and had great colors. Even though the water was cold they fought good for their size. My lens got some water on it as you can tell from the picture.
All and all it was a great day of fishing. I caught probably a dozen pickerel and a couple of healthy largemouths. The hot fishing kept the cold weather unnoticeable all morning. In my opinion the most exciting aspect of pickerel fishing is watching these fish hit a fly, They are not all that big and even on a 3wt the fight is moderate. Their kinda the big dog stuck in a little dogs body of fish. They attack flies with an onslaught but often time bite off more than they can chew.
Flyrods, Flies and leaders
- A 3-4 weight flyrod is perfect. If the wind is bad a 5-6wt is the most you want to go to keep it somewhat sporting for the fish. You don't have to make long cast, you will typically be making 15-25' cast into pockets and holes in the lily pads and vegetation.
- For leaders 20lb fluorocarbon will work 90% of the time. You will get bite off from time to time, if you are targeting larger fish you may want to step up to 25-30lb. Wire is absolutely not needed.
- Flies need to be 3-4 inch baitfish patterns. I believe dark days - dark flies but that isn't always the case as I caught fish on black/dark red today along with yellow/red and yellow/orange. I don't think color matters but every day is different so have some flies in a variety of colors. You'll want some surface flies and some slow sinking subsurface patterns as well. Weed guards will keep you from hanging up on lily pad stems and vegetation but aren't a necessity because with 20lb fluorocarbon you can just strip the fly out of any vegetation you get hung up in.