Chain pickerel are common in Cayuga, Canandaigua, Honeoye, and Keuka Lakes. They are also found in Seneca, Canadice, Hemlock and Skaneateles Lake. Conesus might still have a few but I’m not sure. They were once found in Otisco Lake but disappeared there in the 1970s due to a lack of weedgrowth. They were there in the 1970s/early 1980s. Pickerel are a lot like northern pike – as a matter of fact, they can interbreed with pike. I’ve seen hybrids come out of Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka Lakes (for more on this, click on my “hybrid pike/pickerel” page under “Species.”) Pickerel are typically a yellowish green color with dark chain-like markings on them. Pike are dark green to grey with lighter spots along their back. A lot of anglers catch large pickerel and automatically think they are pike.
Pickerel are very aggressive and can be a lot of fun to catch. They hit hard and fight good. Most clients I’ve guided on the northern end of Cayuga Lake enjoy catching the pickerel more so than the bass up there. They are more numerous and hit harder.
Pickerel are excellent table fare. They are a drier fish (as opposed to oily like a trout, tuna or bluefish.) They lend themselves to being sautéed, poached or baked. If you like eating perch or walleyes, you’ll love pickerel. The main reason they are not held in a high regard as a food fish is that they are very bony, like pike. There are ways to fillet pickerel to get around the bones. YouTube is a good place to search out videos. You can also grind the fillets up and make patties/fish cakes out of them.
They’ll hit any lure a bass or pike would hit. Their teeth make using a bite-leader a must, unless you like losing tackle. The pickerel in the Finger Lakes run large. Twenty-two-inch pickerel are common, and most Finger Lakes produce 25″+ fish frequently. I’ve seen pickerel running 26″ to 28″ long in numerous Finger Lakes.
I don’t believe pickerel are native to the Finger Lakes. They are native to the Susquehanna River drainage and in the mid-1800s anglers transferred them into the Fingers because they enjoyed fishing for them. I found that information in a book that was a collection of fishing essays from the mid 1800s!