My friend Ryan O and I have fished many pickerel tournaments in New Jersey and got first place in every one of them. When I first moved to New Jersey, I was not familiar with this toothy creature that kept cutting off all my expensive spinners!
I quickly started to use wire leaders and target this fish because pickerel are so much fun to catch! Some bass fishermen don’t like pickerel because they compete for the same food as pickerel can take over a lake with their aggressive behavior.
Pickerel do not get as large as northern pike and musky but are common at about 24 inches which is about a three-pound pickerel. As I will discuss below that the key to catching lots of pickerel is covering lots of water in depths ranging from 1 to 6 feet and reeling the lure in fast! If you think you are reeling to fast for a fish to bite real twice that fast and you will start catching lots of pickerel!
Here Are the Best Pickerel Fishing Lures
1. Mepps Spinner Number 5
Price: Around $7
A Mepps #5 spinners with a steel leader is my go-to setup for pickerel. I also use 20lb braided line so that the lure can be cast far and strong enough to pull a hooked fish through weeds if needed. As mentioned above the key is to reel fast. The lure should be in the top 6 inches of water. This help keep the spinner above the weeds! Also, you frequently get to see the fish chase the lure and strike which is super fun!
When fishing clear water on a bright day this same lure with a silver blade also works great. Stick with bronze in murky and in low light conditions. The general rule for most fishing is dark lures or low light and low visibility conditions and bright lures on sunny days in clear water.
However, there is rarely a bad time to use a Mepps spinner. Lots of water can be covered quickly which helps locate and catch fish. Generally, cast past where the fish are likely to be as to not scare the fish with a large splash. If the fish are being aggressive they will quickly swim toward the splash and bite the lure before tension is even added to the line.
20-pound steel leader
Price: Around $6
I recommend using an Eagle Claw 12 inch 20-pound steel leader. Having a steel leader makes it so the fishing line does not get cut by the pickerels teeth. I like using leaders that are black not silver.
2. Mepps Spinner Number 3
Price: Around $5
A Mepps #3 is best when fishing slowly in small areas. Slowly meaning that the same area is being fished for a long time, not reel speed.
The reel speed should always be fast when targeting pickerel. Reeling slowly is better when targeting bass. Using a Mepps #3 vs a Mepps #5 makes it so that splash does not make as much noise.
It is also easier to keep the lure in the top six inches of the water column which helps avoid weeds.
3. Johnson Weedless Spoon
Price: Around $4
The Johnson weedless spoon is a classic lure that has been around forever. It swirls from side to side and acts like an injured fish.
The weedless spoon is not truly weedless but having a hook guard and one hook it does better than most lures at avoiding getting caught on weeds.
I like using the 2 3/4 inch spoon as it is heavy, 3/4 ounce and can be cast very far. Further that you typically want to cast.
4. Spinner Baits
Price: Around $6
Spinner baits are not my go-to lure but are always fun to experiment with under certain conditions. I try these for bass and typically slam the pickerel with them which is why they are on the list for top pickerel lures. This bait can be reeled in fast to cover lots of water which is the recipe for success when it comes to pickerel. Typically I would use a spinnerbait if the weeds are set in the 6-10 feet of water range which is deeper depth then where I would typically target pickerel.
Strike King 1/8 ounce Mini-King Spinnerbait. A single blade with a single hook.
5. Rapala Husky Jerk
Price: Around $6
The Husky Jerk is a great lure for any fish in the pike family. Changing lure speeds triggers these fish to strike. The Husky Jerk looks great when not moving at all and when traveling at trolling speeds.
This lure even works when the fish are not being overly aggressive because the decision to strike can be an instinct bite, not because the fish is hungry. The method to fish this lure is to make it look like an injured fish. Short fast jerks with pauses to allow the fish time to strike. Fish seem to have a hard time not biting an injured fish!
HJ08 Husky Jerk. These have two number 6 trouble hooks, 3 1/8 inches long and 1/4 ounce.
More Information on Pickerel Fish
Pickerel fish include redfin pickerel, grass pickerel, and chain pickerel. The redfin pickerel is commonly misidentified as a small musky because of the red fins and vertical stripes similar to musky. The grass pickerel is similar to a chain pickerel but also has vertical stripes. Chain pickerel are often misidentified as small northern pike as they look very similar and pickerel are in the pike family. One important difference for identification purposed is that pickerels chain pattern or stripes do not continue onto the tail of a chain pickerel fish.
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. If you have any questions about how to catch pickerel feel free to ask them below.
If you have any suggestions for pickerel lures, also leave them below!
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands and Alaska. Cody grew up in Pennsylvania and has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!