Triggering Chain Reactions
to 22 inches. Fishing season at Duck Creek begins the day after duck season ends.
Noblett Lake, owned by the USDA Forest Service, is one of several chain pickerel hot spots. Electrofishing surveys at this 25-acre lake, located off Highway AP, five miles southwest of Willow Springs, have turned up several fish more than two feet long. Most pickerel are taken along the edge of weedbeds on the north side of the lake.
Sims Valley Community Lake, located at the end of Highway RA, seven miles east of Willow Springs, has chains measuring 30 inches. The best place to catch them is around weedbeds in the upper ends of the lake's two arms.
Sloughs, cutoff creek channels and spring pools along the Current, Jacks Fork and lower Eleven Point rivers harbor chain pickerel up to four pounds. Wading anglers can find good action on tributaries of these streams.
Mark Nickless of De Soto has made a fairly serious survey of chain pickerel fishing spots. He says the biggest concentration he has seen is at Montauk State Park. He says Maramec Spring Park has its share of chains, too.
Any lure that mimics a minnow and can be fished around aquatic plants is worth trying on chains. White, chartreuse or yellow bass spinnerbaits and weedless spoons with pork rind trailers are made to order. Floating/diving crankbaits and topwater minnow imitations are useful, too.
Real minnows can be marvelously effective. Use a No. 2 wire hook through the minnow's back and the smallest bobber possible. Add just enough split shot to keep the bait down.
A fly rod or ultralight spinning gear are the most challenging ways to catch chains, but if you're intent on putting fish in the boat, a light- to medium-action bass rig is hard to beat. Pickerel aren't particularly line-shy, and 10-pound test monofilament comes in handy when extracting feisty fish from dense vegetation.
Eyeglasses with polarized lenses are among the most valuable pieces of pickerel fishing equipment. Occasionally, strikes come after an extended "follow," during which the pickerel sizes up your bait. Being able to see how fish behave as they stalk your lure allows you to adjust your retrieve to trigger strikes.
If you aren't getting your bait hung in vegetation, you aren't pickerel fishing. Fish close to the edge of underwater weed beds or over the top of them, and don't be afraid to cast into openings where you know you'll snag a bowl full of salad on the retrieve. You may hook a fish first.
When fishing topwater lures, give finicky pickerel plenty of time to eye the lure as it sits motionless between twitches. Many strikes come in the last few inches of the retrieve, so keep your bait in the water right up to the boat. When the lure gets within a foot of your rod tip, swish it back and forth in a figure-eight before picking it up.
To fish small, open spaces in weedbeds, tie a noisy topwater lure to the tip of a telescoping crappie pole with three feet of stout line. Reach out with the long pole and drag the lure back and forth across the surface of the opening to trigger strikes.
Care & cooking
Chain pickerel meat is firm and sweet, but it has many tiny bones. You can make the bones unnoticable by scoring the flesh deeply with a knife before frying. Another way to deal with the bones is to grind the meat in a food processor and mix it with a small amount of beaten egg and bread crumbs. Form it into cakes half an inch thick and three inches wide. Roll the cakes in cornmeal and deep fry. Fish sandwiches made with these cakes are delicious. The hot oil used in both methods dissolves the bones, making them easily edible.
Pickling also dissolves bones. For a pint of pickerel fillets, dissolve one part pickling salt in three parts distilled vinegar. Cover the fillets with brine in a sealable plastic container and put it in the refrigerator for five days.
Next, rinse the fillets and soak in cold water for two hours. Dissolve one part sugar in one part distilled vinegar, then add one part white wine. Layer fish and thinly sliced red onions in a Mason jar and top with two tablespoons of pickling spice per quart. Fill the jars with the vinegar/sugar/wine mixture, seal and return to refrigerator for five days before eating.
Just as important as how you cook pickerel is how you treat them between water and kitchen. The meat will turn mushy if you keep the fish on a stringer or in a livewell. Instead, dispatch keepers immediately, gut them and put them on ice.