Redfin Pickerel Fishing Guide

Redfin pickerel aren’t well known among most freshwater anglers, and there are some major reasons why. Most state records are measured in ounces, not even hitting the full one pound mark, and even the world record redfin pickerel is a size that few bass anglers or pike anglers would be impressed by. If you’re looking for a trophy to put on the wall, the redfin isn’t going to be anywhere near the top of your list.

However, when it comes to a tasty freshwater fish that you can catch in large numbers for a good old fashioned fish fry without worrying about low number limits, it’s sort of hard to beat what the redfin pickerel (or mud pike, southern pike, red pike, or whatever you like to call it) brings to the table…quite literally as long as it’s a dinner table!

Also commonly referred to as “mud pike” or “red pike” depending on where you’re at, they’re much like panfish in that they’re the type of fish that you get a whole bucket full of and then fry them in large numbers. If you have creeks in the area, especially in swampy or deep forest areas with very slow moving water and a lot of mud, maybe some flood plains around the creek systems, and you are in the right place to look for a mess of them.

Take a look at the map below to see where you can find a lot of redfin pickerel throughout the States and keep in mind that they are less inclined to be in the rivers that are shown on the U.S. Geological map below and more likely to be in the off-shoot small rivers and creeks that attach to these rivers; often referred to as their “basins.”

redfin pickerel habitat map
Redfin Pickerel Habitat Map According to the U.S. Geological Survey.

How to Fish for Redfin Pickerel

Many regions have a long history of fishing for redfin pickerel, and they tend to do best where there are muddy creeks with slow moving currents that lead to deeper watering holes where they can find cover. Since they don’t get very big at all, they aren’t going to thrive where there are a lot of big predator fish like northern pike or largemouth bass.

You can find them in very slow moving creeks. Look for deeper fishing holes in those creeks. Swamps, muddy creeks, connected bodies of water off the beaten path tend to lead to good fishing holes when it comes to these delicious little fish that you should catch and eat by the bucketful.

The fishing gear needed is nothing fancy. In fact, many of the old-time anglers who went piking back in the days would use very simple cane poles with just 10-12 lb test line, a small hook, and a small jig. Various baits also tend to work well as redfins might be small, but they have the voracious appetites of their larger cousins and true to most members of the pike family, they are happy to try eating anything they can get down their throats.

The modern version of those old cane fishing rods that more recent anglers choose to use (although there are a lot fewer pikers scouring those fishing holes than there used to be, unfortunately) are 12 foot telescopic fiberglass fishing rods. These poles can take that punch and there are telescopic fishing rods that can also work well while giving more mobility in those tight knit areas where it can be challenging to make it past all the low hanging branches and other obstacles.

Look for the areas where water pools and gets a little deeper. This is where the mud pike love to hang out and where often times many of them can be found in one area. Maybe even an entire bucket’s worth, if you’re lucky.

For bait, nothing fancy needed.

Hooks of your choice, small jig of your choice, or some basic bait. These eaters have been caught on all kinds of bait: worms, bugs, rotted food, I’ve even heard stories of some catching these on actual northern pike fins or scales.

In other words, you have plenty of options when it comes to what bait to use to bring in some mud pike.

Cooking Redfin Pickerel

Redfin pickerel is delicious, but there are some ways to cook it that are going to work better than others. Known for being white, flaky, with a touch of sweetness to it, these fish are an absolute treat that are better than most anglers and fish fans expect out of a muddy creek environment like that.

There is one major downside to the redfin pike, and that’s the fact that they have a well-deserved reputation for being bony, so that is a legitimate issue to keep in mind. And they’re too small to handle like with removing the Y-bone from a pike.

The best way to go about cooking these is to treat them like panfish. They fry up great, and an old technique of some Southern pikers I talked to said the best way to treat them is to:

  • De-scale the fish
  • Cut off the head
  • Gut the fish like a normal panfish
  • Fry them
  • Let the fish cool enough to hold them in your hand
  • Hold them upside down, reach down through the rib cage
  • Pull out the backbone – the ribs are all attached

Get this technique done right and you should have very few, if any, bones that are left on the actual fillets. But you will have plenty of sweet tasting red pike (red pickerel) meat left to enjoy one heck of a meal!

Redfin Pickerel Fishing: In Conclusion

While redfin pickerel aren’t as popular a fishing target as they even used to be regionally, there’s a lot to love about what these tasty little guys have to offer and there’s little doubt that fishing for a bucket full of these small tasty fighters is going to go a lot quicker than the patience it takes in order to bring in a lot of trout. These little guys can go by many names, but they have a sweet meaty taste that is delicious and can give even the best collection of panfish a serious run for its money during any given fish fry.

If you have never eaten a mess of redfin pickerel, then you are really missing out. Move this up your list of things to try as an angler and outdoorsman and chances are you will fall in love with this tasty little fish and what it has to offer.

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