How Big Do Chain Pickerel Get?

Chain pickerel, cousin to the northern pike and the other Esox most likely to get mistaken for their larger pike cousin, is a fairly popular game fish that is found in some of the same waters as pike and muskies but also has an extensive Southern range that makes it far more common than pike south of a certain point.

The average adult chain pickerel grows to around 24 inches in length and 3 lbs in weight. However, chain pickerel can get much larger as the world record for chain pickerel is 9 lbs 6 oz and there are multiple adult chain pickerel that reach over 30 inches in length.

Even though this makes it a smaller member of the Esox family, chain pickerel fight hard pound for pound. This gives them an enjoyable reputation among anglers who know when a pickerel hits the lure. That is a hard fight, and what so many of us go out to the water to experience.

chain pickerel in water

While they belong in the pike family, many anglers don’t know all that much about these smaller hard fighting cousins. So just how big is a big pickerel? How large can they grow?

We have the answers for you right here!

What Is the Chain Pickerel World Record?

The world record chain pickerel, or aka how big can the biggest chain pickerel get, is 9 lbs 6 oz and was caught in the state of Georgia. This makes sense as the largest pickerel are generally found in more southern climates versus northern waters.

From northern waters there is a record in the state of New York of 8 lbs 1 oz. The shorter life span of the pickerel is what likely keeps them from reaching the same massive sizes that the northern pike and muskies, other members of the Esox family, can reach in much older age.

As mentioned in our article on how long do northern pike live, pike grow faster in the south because the waters are warmer but they also tend to live less. The biggest pike come from the northern waters because they can live for so much longer in colder water.

To a much lesser extent the same may apply to pickerel however since chain pickerel grow at a much slower rate than pike after a certain size and live less, they can never reach major sizes. Which is why you don’t see the big size differences in climates with this fish.

What’s the Average Size for Adult Chain Pickerel?

The average size for an adult chain pickerel is much smaller than the world records would indicate. And much smaller than many of the state records, as well.

An average adult pickerel, one that is five years old or older, is only 24 inches long on average but then maxes out at around 3 lbs in weight. At most, in many cases.

This is a pretty moderate sized fish by any sports angling standards, but an adult pickerel will give you a fun fight the same way a similar sized largemouth bass will. Some anglers will argue that the pickerel will give an even better fight than the bass at that size.

That’s a reasonable size to expect from a healthy local pickerel population.

Are Chain Pickerel Slow Growers?

One thing chain pickerel seem to have a reputation for that is not normal in the pike family is being slower growers than their bigger cousin. While these fish tend to max out well short of what

So as very small fish, once they get big enough to start eating minnows they can grow surprisingly quickly up to a certain point. This is confirmed with an old study, perhaps one of the first scientific studies on chain pickerel, which showed bursts of fast growth at small sizes that would level out at certain sizes.

From the A.H. Underhill Study published in 1949 pickerel were put in a cold spring with plenty of food and observed. The growth numbers recorded was this:

  • Year One: 4.5 inches and .5 ounces
  • Year Two: 7 inches and 1.5 ounces
  • Year Three: 10 inches and 4 ounces
  • Year Four: 13.5-14.5 inches and 8-12 ounces
  • Year Five: 17.5 inches and 24 ounces (1 lb 8 ounces)
  • Year Six: 20 inches and 40 ounces (2 lbs 8 ounces)

At that point they’re at average size and many adult pickerel at that point either stop growing or they gain some wait and grow slowly. So how can fish that only live 2-3 more years tops sometimes grab an extra 10 inches and 6 lbs?

Hard to say. Most of the larger pickerel records were set many decades ago so there’s some limited evidence that you just don’t get huge pickerel that size anymore.

Likely it’s a combination of food source, local waters, and don’t forget the occasional freakish genetic mutation. Average and ordinary are terms that are used for a reason. Sometimes you just have that one genetic aberration that can grow much bigger and somehow makes it old enough/big enough to do just that.

But that is certainly a rarity. The six years of measurements above are probably more accurate of what to expect with maybe slightly faster growth in warmer southern climates. For those small chain pickerel that can avoid becoming the meals of larger ones.

In Conclusion

While these aren’t numbers that will necessarily create an Ahab-like obsession among sports anglers the way a world record northern pike, muskie, or tiger muskie would, that doesn’t change the fact that these fish fight hard pound for pound and let’s face it: a five or six pound fish is not anything to sneeze at.

Especially if you’re good with a Y-bone and know how to fillet them like you would a pike.

For catch and release anglers or just those curious, generally the 20 inches and 3 lbs is the size you should expect from what would be considered a really good fish. If you manage to hit the larger ones, then make sure you set that hook and enjoy the impressive fight that is sure to follow!

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