Cooling water means the pickerel fishing is heating up.
There are no sure bets, no certain bets, no take it the bank bets, but there are good bets, and when it comes to cashing in on the success of a freshwater fishing wager during this atmospherically volatile month, the odd will be on your favor if you bet on pickerel.
This most aggressive, yet smallest of the esocid fearsome foursome which also includes musky, tiger musky, and the northern pike, really turns up the heat during the late autumn-into-winter cool down. Its aggressiveness and appetite only increase as the water goes from cool to cold, which holds true right up to ice. Save for March, there’s no better month to cast for this late season poster fish for gluttony than November. The feed bags will be affixed and chow time is from first light to dusk. The ubiquitous chainsides can be found in almost any shallow weedy water body but also thrives in the deeper clear rocky, lily pad-sprinkled lakes and reservoirs. And don’t overlook slightly brackish swims such as the top side of tidal rivers with fluctuating flows with their faint touch of salt. As long as there are weeds and forage, chances are pickerel will be there. An example of this is in my home state of New Jersey, where the Mullica River, its lower reaches are known for stripers, bluefish, and fluke. Still, it offers outstanding opportunities for exceptional pickerel from Crowley’s Landing up through Sweetwater to its confluence with the Wading River.
“Some huge pickerel in that stretch of the Mullica,” opines New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife principal fisheries biologist Chris Smith, adding, “November is certainly prime time when it comes to catching pickerel wherever they’re found, and chances are they’ll still be active through December.”
Tactics are straightforward when it comes to getting chainsides to strike as autumn gives way to winter—some minor tweaking here and there, but nothing too extensive. The savage nature of the quarry dictates this. Hardware, plastics, live bait all will be assaulted one way or another and may only be a matter of rate of retrieve or lure and/or color choice.
Keeping it simple regarding the arsenal will mean more time presenting rather than changing. Unlike largemouth and smallmouth bass that can be selective and obstinate during this transition time of year with water temperatures dipping below 50, pickerel tend to be focused more on targeting prey, making a lightning strike, clamping their jaws, and getting a meal in the belly. A cold environment does not impede the intentions of this apex predator, spectacularly illustrated by the fact that the species is usually at the top of the list when it comes to the ice fishing fraternity.
Adhering to the keeping it simple principle, it’s tough to beat a live baitfish (shiner, killie, chub, small sunnie, or sucker) suspended under a cigar-style float and worked via an occasional twitch of the rod in the alleys and other openings through or over weeds. The vibes emitted by prey in distress will grab the attention of any pickerel stationed in the area.
A circle hook makes the best metal-to-maw connection, with the tightening of the line made as the float begins its second journey. A much easier release, even if the aquatic assassin is sentenced to the stringer.
Speed kills, as the saying goes, and nothing gets a pickerel more lathered than a fleeing victim. The faster the flee, the more debilitating the kill shot chomp. The rate of retrieve that elicited smashes, thrashes, and hits during the warm water months needs to be reduced; how much slower the pickerel will offer vis-a-vis its inspection and accept or reject the behavior of the prospective visitor prey.
Chowing chains eagerly set upon shallow running and suspending slim profile plugs. It’s simply a matter of discovering the cadence that lights the wick. The occasion when slower frequently proves better regards a personal cold water pickerel near never-fail: the weedless quarter to three-quarter ounce Johnson Silver Minnow spoon (silver, fire tiger, perch, gold) sweetened with a chartreuse, yellow or white curly tail grub trailer.