Triggering Chain Reactions

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 10, 2010

known as "the fish of a thousand casts." That's because you can fish a whole day in prime muskie water without getting a strike. Pickerel fishing isn't quite that tough, but "chains" might be the fish of 500 casts. A fishing trip to Noblett Lake in Douglas County illustrates the point.

Noblett Lake is spring-fed and has vast beds of coontail, an underwater plant that creates excellent pickerel habitat. I went there to fish for pickerel in mid-April 1999 under the tutelage of Fisheries Management Biologist Dave Mayers. The air temperature was in the low 50s, and a heavy overcast delivered alternating drizzle and light rain throughout the day. The conditions were perfect for pickerel fishing.

In six hours of fishing up and down the lake's two-mile length, three of us saw only half a dozen chains. Five simply shadowed our lures (known as "follows") warily checking them out before sinking back into the coontail. The sixth, a 15-incher, darted out to snatch a weedless spoon with a pork-rind trailer. The only other fish we enticed were a 10-inch largemouth bass and a few sunfish.

Another one-fish day came in mid-February 2000 at Missouri's pickerel fishing Mecca, Duck Creek CA. We drove down the night before. By the time we got on the water at 8 a.m., the temperature was in the mid-30s. By midday, the mercury had climbed into the 50s, but the breeze that always seems to scour the 1,800-acre reservoir still carried more than a hint of Siberia.

Fisheries Management Biologist Mark Boone captained our pickerel-fishing expedition that day. Again we caught a few largemouths, and toward the end of our trip an 18-inch chain pickerel made our day by snatching Conservationist Photographer Cliff White's yellow and white bass spinnerbait.

When and where

Chain pickerel lurk throughout underwater weed beds, waiting to ambush prey and make an angler's day. They make themselves scarce on sunny days, but you can find them foraging in open water near dusk and dawn and on overcast days. They love cool water, so they are most active in January, February and March.

Spawning usually occurs in mid to late February. Chains don't eat while protecting their eggs, but they will pick up intruding lures and carry them away from the nest area, giving you time to set the hook.

Pool 1 at Duck Creek CA is the state's chain pickerel fishing hot spot. The average fish caught there measures 18

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