Chain Pickerel

Esox niger


Image of a chain pickerel
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission.

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


Elongated body, snout shaped like a duck’s bill, large mouth with many sharp teeth. Back and sides olive or yellowish brown with a chainlike pattern of dark lines. Dorsal, or back fin, placed far back on the body. Similar to the smaller grass pickerel, which attain an average size of 10 to 12 inches, but both species seldom found in same waters. Adults lie motionless in dense stands of vegetation and ambush prey with a quick darting motion.


Total length: 16 to 22 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Streams and some lakes of the southeastern Ozarks. Inhabit clear, quiet waters where aquatic vegetation is abundant, particularly in backwater sloughs of streams.


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.