The similar looking but smaller cousin to the northern pike is known in areas for being a fierce fighter and offering some tasty fillets for anglers who know how to work around the bones to get some clean boneless cuts. One of two sub-species often grouped together as “American Pickerel,” the chain pickerel can offer some great experiences to local anglers.
But how fast do they grow?
The chain pickerel reaches adulthood in approximately 3-4 years depending on growth rate and local habitat. Young adults range from 10-14 inches in length and weigh 5 to 12 ounces at that point. Once adults it usually takes only two years for adult pickerel to grow to their average size of 17-21 inches in length and 2-3 lbs in weight.
You could say the chain pickerel is a fish that starts out small and slow, explodes in growth through young adulthood, and then levels off once again.
While there are exceptions, that tends to be the most common pattern. Often the availability of food (pickerel are voracious eaters like their larger cousin the pike) has a lot to do whether they grow fast and reach full maturity just after two full years, or whether it takes longer, closer to four.
Since many adult pickerel only live 4-5 years, and even the absolute oldest only live 9 years, the growth rates have to explode at certain points to hit a full adult size.
Since you’ll also never find a 20 year old pickerel there’s no chance of them displaying the same growth rates as pike or muskies.
Chain Pickerel Growth Rates: Year by Year
While the exact ranges can vary slightly depending on the local environment and factors such as weather, availability of food, and other local factors directly affecting the ecosystem.
The following numbers are from a controlled cold stream with plenty of food made available.
- First Year: 4.5 inches & .5 ounces
- Year Two: 7 inches & 1.5 ounces
- Year Three (Some reach Adulthood): 10 inches & 4 ounces
- Year Four (All pickerel this old are now adults): 13.5-14.5 inches & 8-12 ounces
- Year Five: 17.5 inches & 24 ounces (1 lb 8 ounces)
- Year Six: 20 inches & 40 ounces (2 lbs 8 ounces)
While exact numbers were not given for other environments, and tighter studies weren’t made, there were academic papers from wildlife associations have mentioned that pickerel in heavily covered warm water ponds (those with lily pads – endless minnow and bug food but hard to fish) seemed to speed up the process of growth, producing some fully adult pickerel at the end of three years (beginning of year four).
The Chain Pickerel in the warmer waters overloaded with food are the most likely to grow more quickly and grow at larger rates. If you look at state pickerel records the big ones tend to come from warmer water with grassy areas and coverage.
So Is There a “Common” Growth Rate for Pickerel?
For chain pickerel, the rates that have been described are pretty accurate. Slow it down a bit for cold water, speed it up for warmer water. Do the same based on just how much food there is.
Pickerels take some time to hit adulthood and it’s worth noting that they will eat other pickerel if there isn’t enough food for all the pickerel in an area to grow. Cannibalism is a thing among these Esox fish.
So why do some pickerel stay with one of these growth rates and then just pass away after breeding once or twice while others grow for another 5 years?
There hasn’t been a ton of study on this but some of this might simply remain a mystery. Almost certainly the biggest or fastest growing pickerel enjoy some combination of these three things:
- Abundant food source
- Warmer water with plenty of shade
- Genetic anomalies inclined to larger growth and longer life
When those all come together you have the potential for some large chain pickerel that wreck the normal growth curve.
More Great Information on Chain Pickerel
That’s what we know about how this aggressive younger cousin of the northern pike grows. They may take a few years to get up to adulthood but they offer a great fishing experience for anglers once they do.
If you’ve been pickerel fishing you already know this. However, for anglers looking to see what chain pickerel have to offer, understanding their growth rate can help you understand more about this great game fish.
Other great articles on chain pickerel include: