Chain pickerel are one of my favorite freshwater gamefish. While many anglers despise them, I am rather fond of them. Why do so many anglers dislike them? Chain pickerel are members of the pike family, and like their larger cousins, they have mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth. These teeth, as well as sharp gill plates, give them the ability to rob fisherman of their expensive flies and lures if precautionary measures are not taken. While I seldom lose a fly when targeting chain pickerel, I have lost countless flies to them when fishing for other species like bluegill. A light nylon or fluorocarbon tippet does not stand a chance against those teeth.
Hang On To Those Flies
To prevent bite-offs while fishing for pickerel, you will need to use a short bite tippet. A bite or shock tippet is a piece of heavier line, or wire added to the end of your existing tippet to protect it from sharp teeth or abrasions. The length of shock/bite tippet can vary based on the species you're targeting. For chain pickerel, a bite tippet of six inches to a foot is sufficient. I usually use a wire bite tippet. Wire bite tippet is a knot-able, braided wire that is supple and flexible enough to be tied directly to your fly. I have found this knot-able wire as light as six pounds breaking strength which is extremely small in diameter and will not spook fish (not that pickerel are especially leader shy). This very light wire bite tippet will be hard to find for most anglers, but companies like Cortland and Rio produce wire bite tippet as light as 10lb breaking strength (Cortland SS10) that is readily available.
A wire bite tippet is essential when fishing for toothy critters like pickerel!
Making the Connection
There are several ways to connect your wire bite tippet to the end of your existing tippet (class tippet). My favorite is a modified "Slim Beauty" knot. The Slim Beauty is a knot popular with big game anglers. This version is pared down a bit and is perfect for toothy critters in fresh water. Rather than trying to explain this knot in writing, you can check out this video  from the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center to learn how to tie this knot yourself.
The TyGer Knot is a simple knot that works well with wire tippet material.
I use a "TyGer" knot for attaching the fly to the end of the bite tippet. A TyGer knot is a two-turn clinch knot which works well for this light wire tippet. It has a low profile and holds surprisingly well. If I want to impart a lot of movement into my fly while retrieving it I will employ the use of a small snap. This will allow me to animate the fly as much as I want despite the stiffer wire tippet material.
Pickerel will take a large variety of flies; in fact, they are often caught on flies intended for other species. This usually results in a bite off with the angler cursing the fish for taking their fly. When specifically targeting pickerel, I will typically fish a streamer when fishing below the surface and a frog pattern for fishing on the surface. As a general rule other fish make up most of a chain pickerel diet but like their larger cousins pike and muskellunge they will seldom pass up different food items that present themselves. In my local lakes, a frog pattern or other floating bass bug fished near lily pads or other shoreline structure often elicit vicious takes from pickerel.
For streamer patterns, I like flies with a lot of built-in flash, though realistic imitations of forage fish like yellow perch can also be very effective. On a recent trip to Maine, perch imitations were the fly of choice and a perch colored deceiver style fly tied by my good friend and Panfish On The Fly contributor, Lou Digena was a top producer. Lou's perch imitation is a big fly, four to five inches in length, but pickerel of all sizes found it irresistible! The resident smallmouth and largemouth bass showed a fondness for it as well.
Where to Find Them
Chain Pickerel can be found all up and down the eastern seaboard from Canada to Florida. So chances are you have them in your neighborhood if you live east of the Mississippi River. Members of the pike family, including pickerel, are ambush predators that rely heavily on sight to catch their prey. They will lie motionless in cover then explode violently to secure their meal. They are lightning fast when they need to be but can also be incredibly stealthy, sometimes rising like a submarine behind a fly to give it a closer look. Because they are ambush predators, they will always be found near cover. Aquatic vegetation is their preferred cover, but if it lacks in their habitat, they will also orient themselves to other structure types like wood or stone. When it comes to pickerel, the thicker the vegetation, the better. They will lie concealed then burst from cover to take their prey or your fly! They can be found in water depths only inches deep along the shoreline to submerged weed beds in 20-30 feet of water.
I often hear the complaint that chain pickerel are weak fighters. On light tackle (3-6wt fly rods) they are excellent sport. The larger specimens we recently caught in Maine put a severe bend in the seven weight outfits we were using to throw those big streamers! If you use the same equipment you use for panfish they will leave you smiling every time!