Biologist Justin Spaulding holds a Chain Pickerel caught while sampling in Duck River near Normandy Lake and was 18” long and weighed 1.5 lbs.
The Chain Pickerel is a small relative of the notorious Muskellunge and a member of the pike family. Chain Pickerel is a native sport fish, although rarely targeted by anglers. The Chain Pickerel is very toothy, like the musky, and they fight hard for their size. It is most often caught accidentally in the backs of creeks in Kentucky Lake while bass fishing. The state record Chain Pickerel is 7.7 pounds from Kentucky Lake, 1991. They occur in low numbers throughout most of west Tennessee as well as the Buffalo and Duck Rivers of middle Tennessee. They can even be caught as far east as Normandy Lake, a Duck River u.
Pickerel are rare to non-existent on the Plateau or east Tennessee (Regions 3 and 4). It’s likely either a small musky or a misidentified gar, Sauger, or Walleye. Pickerel are very common in northern states and along the Coast. They occur only sporadically in Tennessee due to limited habitat. They prefer clean, clear, and still water with aquatic vegetation. Pickerel are sensitive to water quality and are very habitat specific.
Another small member of the Pike family, the Grass Pickerel, is common west of the Tennessee River. However, they reach a maximum size of only 12-15”.
Anglers wanting to catch a Chain Pickerel should start in the Big Sandy area of Kentucky Lake and look in small creeks and coves for grass or vertical woody structure. Try throwing a spinner bait or rattletrap. Be prepared to have your line cut by their teeth or bring a light wire leader.