Chain Pickerel

Chain pickerel side view photo with black background
Scientific Name
Esox niger
Esocidae (pikes) in the order Esociformes (mudminnows and pikes)

Like other pikes, the chain pickerel has a duckbill-shaped snout, large mouth with many sharp teeth, and a single dorsal fin, which is similar in shape and size to the anal fin. Both the anal and dorsal fins are positioned closer to the forked tail fin than they are to the head. The chain pickerel’s cheek and gill cover are fully scaled, and it has a row of four sensory pores along the undersurface of the jaw. The back and sides are olive or yellowish-brown with a chainlike pattern consisting of dark, horizontal lines. 

Similar species: The grass pickerel (redfin pickerel) is smaller, attaining an average size of 10 to 12 inches. The grass pickerel’s snout is shorter than the chain pickerel’s, the distance from tip of snout to center of eye being equal to or less than the distance from the center of the eye to the rear margin of the gill cover. The grass pickerel also differs in that its back and sides are often, but not always, colored by a series of dark, vertical bars giving it a mottled appearance.


Total length: 16 to 22 inches.

Where To Find
image of Chain Pickerel distribution map

Limited to streams and some lakes of the southeastern Ozarks.

Streams and some lakes of the southeastern Ozarks. Inhabits clear, quiet waters where aquatic vegetation is abundant, particularly in backwater sloughs of streams. Adults lie motionless in dense stands of vegetation and ambush prey with a quick darting motion.

Adults are carnivorous and feed on other fishes. Young feed on small crustaceans and aquatic insects.

Game fish.

Life Cycle

They are random spawners. Instead of building a nest, they spread their eggs with a flick of their tail. A sticky coating on eggs allows them to adhere to vegetation. They live 8 to 9 years.

A favorite target of anglers.

Controls fishes, small crustaceans, and aquatic insects.

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Similar Species
About Fishes in Missouri
Missouri has more than 200 kinds of fish, more than are found in most neighboring states. Fishes live in water, breathe with gills, and have fins instead of legs. Most are covered with scales. Most fish in Missouri “look” like fish and could never be confused with anything else. True, lampreys and eels have snakelike bodies — but they also have fins and smooth, slimy skin, which snakes do not.