Chain Pickerel

Esox niger


Chain pickerel side view photo with black background
Chain pickerel, Esox niger
Lance Merry

Esocidae (pikes) in the order Esociformes (mudminnows and pikes)


The chain pickerel has an elongated body, a snout shaped like a duck’s bill, and a large mouth with many sharp teeth. The back and sides are olive or yellowish brown with a chainlike pattern of dark lines. The dorsal fin is positioned far back on the body.

Similar species: The redfin pickerel (grass pickerel) is smaller, attaining an average size of 10 to 12 inches, but both species are seldom found in the same waters.


Total length: 16 to 22 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Streams and some lakes of the southeastern Ozarks. Inhabits clear, quiet waters where aquatic vegetation is abundant, particularly in backwater sloughs of streams. Adults lie motionless in dense stands of vegetation and ambush prey with a quick darting motion.


Adults are carnivorous and feed on other fishes. Young feed on small crustaceans and aquatic insects.

image of Chain Pickerel distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Limited to streams and some lakes of the southeastern Ozarks.


Game fish.

Life cycle

They are random spawners. Instead of building a nest, they spread their eggs with a flick of their tail. A sticky coating on eggs allows them to adhere to vegetation. They live 8 to 9 years.

Human connections

A favorite target of anglers.

Ecosystem connections

Controls fishes, small crustaceans, and aquatic insects.