Pickerel don’t just get the shorter end of the stick when it comes to size in the Esox family, which also includes bigger cousins like the northern pike and muskellunge. But
Chain pickerel live a total of 7-9 years on average. Only the absolute oldest (and largest) pickerel live past 9 years. Grass pickerel only live 3-4 years while redfin can’t live any more than 5 years.
When most people think of pickerel they are thinking of chain pickerel which are still highly prized as a game fish and closely resemble smaller to medium sized northern pike.
The grass pickerel and redfin pickerel, on the other hand, have little sports angling value which is why their age and a lot of information on those fish is mostly from academic study versus in the world angling use.
The largest of the pickerel, this is also the one that lives the longest. Chain pickerel live a total of 7-9 years although 8 years is a more common ceiling than 9 years is.
Those are going to be the largest chain pickerel that you catch in rivers or lakes.
Pike and muskies have the ability to get much larger mostly because they can live much longer and thus continue to keep growing.
Is this because of climate? In the same way that northern pike unusually far south grow faster but also die younger?
While the chain pickerel’s more southern habitat in warmer climates may have something to do with the shorter lifespan, there haven’t been any long-term studies done in aquariums or other settings to test if colder water climates or care would have any effect.
Learn more about chain pickerel:
Grass pickerel can put up a good fight ounce for ounce but that statement basically hints at the biggest problem that prevents the grass pickerel for not getting more attention or any love from anglers.
They simply don’t grow large enough. When 2 lb puts you in world record territory, it’s a hard sell to get a lot of people to buy in on grass pickerel.
Anglers are willing to deal with a Y-bone or extra fillet work with a big northern or good-sized chain pickerel, but not with a grass pickerel. If you’re going to go fishing for very small fish then you’re going to go for panfish like bluegill, perch, or sunfish.
You know, small fish that taste delicious. Not ones you have to carve all around bones for.
Grass pickerel only age 3-4 years as adults, displaying less than half the life span of chain pickerel in many cases.
When you catch an older grass pickerel, one that is three or four years ago and has a bit of weight to it, it’s a fun little fight for a fish that size. But then it’s release time.
Learn more about the grass pickerel:
Redfin pickerel are the smallest of the pickerel though strangely they live a touch longer than grass pickerel. The average top end age of a redfin pickerel is around five years, although there are some isolated instances of redfins that might be as old as 7 or 8 years.
Though this doesn’t seem to affect their size at all.
And there’s a good chance this fish won’t be a full pound at that point. Many state records for the redfin are in the 12 to 15 ounce range, in fact.
Learn more about the Redfin pickerel:
In Conclusion: Smaller and Younger Esox
The chain pickerel in particular can still grow to halfway decent size and are enjoyed by anglers who like a good fight from a middle sized fish. Whichever pickerel can be found in your area, these younger cousins to the pike simply don’t live as long – but often thrive where they can be found.
And once in a while can offer a heck of a fight, as well. No pickerel will live to be a decade, but they can really pack a punch during this time.