Pike Vs Pickerel What’s The Difference Between Pike And Pickerel?

picture of a pike

If you have ever fished a pike it’s most likely that you probably confused it for a pickerel or maybe it was the other way around. These two fish are extremely similar in looks but they aren’t the same fish so what’s the difference between pike and pickerel and what can you look out for to tell them apart from one another?

In this article, I go in-depth on the unique features of pickerel and pike and what differentiates them from each other from their body color to their fins, size, gill plate, and even the underneath part of their jaw. I also talk about their taste difference and the size of the biggest pickerel and pike that have ever been caught.

By the end of this article, you will learn facts about pickerel and pike and what makes them different from each other.

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Pike Vs Pickerel What Is The Difference Between Pike And Pickerel?

Two fish species that even intermediate anglers have a hard time telling apart from each other are the pike and pickerel. They may look like their the same type of fish but they’re different fish species that have many differences.

If you are fishing for pike and you don’t know that you instead caught many pickerel you could unknowingly go over the daily bag limit and get in trouble so that’s why it’s important to know the difference between pike and pickerel especially if your an active angler that loves to fish like me.

The main reason why the chain pickerel and the northern pike look so similar is that they are both in the same fish family which is the Esocidae family. They are also of the Esox genus and are in the same order known as the Esociformes order so they are a related fish species.

Since these two fish are related closely to each other they end up naturally looking similar in appearance which makes it difficult for telling them apart.

Even the needle-like teeth of a northern pike look like pickerel teeth, but if you look closely at specific features on their bodies you will notice distinct differences to tell them apart from each other much easier.

Body Color Difference

One of my favorite ways of telling apart a pickerel from a pike is by first looking at its body color. Pike usually have darker green colored bodies and some are even dark brown so they’re darker colored compared to pickerel.

Chain pickerel on the other hand have lighter yellow and green colored bodies but one thing that they do have in common is that both of their bellies are colored white.

The body pattern that chain pickerel have on their sides is a vertical and horizontal chain-link-like pattern that’s yellow colored and this is one of the distinct features to look out for when you’re trying to tell the difference between a pickerel and a pike.

Pike have a totally different body pattern, they have horizontal whitish grey or light yellow bean-sized spots and small bars all over their sides which is different from what a pickerel has.

So if you ever catch a pike and think it’s a pickerel if you see that the fish has a yellow-colored chain-link pattern it’s going to be a pickerel since pike do not have that type of body pattern.

Pike Size And Pickerel Size Difference

Depending on the size of the pike or pickerel, differentiating them apart entirely by size could make it harder since they both have an elongated shaped body. If you caught a small pickerel and you tried to tell it apart from a pike just by its size and nothing else it would be too hard.

There are many fishermen that sometimes confuse an adult pickerel for a young pike since chain pickerel don’t grow as big as northern pike. When it comes to size difference chain pickerel are smaller than northern pike, the average weight of a chain pickerel is two to three pounds and they can grow to be up to nine pounds.

Northern pike grow way bigger than pickerel, pike have an average weight of five to ten pounds but they can grow much bigger than that and reach weights of up to fifty pounds which is overall four times bigger than chain pickerel.

The average length of a chain pickerel is ten to nineteen inches long and it’s not too far from their max length and that’s up to twenty-five inches long. Northern pike can get much longer in length compared to pickerel, they have an average length of twenty to twenty-nine inches and they can get twice as long as pickerel when it comes to their maximum length which is up to fifty-two inches long.

All in all the size difference between pike vs pickerel is huge and the bigger in size these two fish are the easier they are to tell apart. If you ever catch a pike that’s over fifteen pounds and you think it’s a pickerel you can tell right away that it’s not a pickerel because chain pickerel can only grow up to nine pounds.

Gill Plate Difference

If you really want to become an expert in identifying pickerel and pike from each other then seeing the difference in gill plates is a great way but it’s also going to be harder because you have to look much closer at the fish.

When you’re looking at the gill plate of a fish the cheeks and the opercle are what you need to look closely at. The opercle is the hard gill cover that covers the gills and the cheeks are right under the eyes of the fish.

Chain pickerel have a fully scaled gill plate their cheeks and opercle are covered all over with scales. Northern pike do not have a fully scaled gill plate their gill plate is missing scales on half of its bottom section. Its cheeks are fully scaled just like the pickerel but the difference is that the opercle of the pike only has a part that is scaled.

This means that if you catch a fish that looks like a pike and it has a fully scaled gill plate then it’s not a pike since their gill plate is missing scales at the bottom area of it unlike the gill plate of a chain pickerel which has scales all over it.

Fin Difference

Although pike and pickerel both have a forked tail fin and a large dorsal fin that’s all the way at the back near their tail there are still ways to tell the difference between them by looking at their fins.

One way of doing so is by looking at the color of its fins, chain pickerel have somewhat lighter fin colors they can be brown, orange, or yellow, and their fins are usually more pale. Northern pike have darker colored fins which are yellow, green, brown, and dark reddish.

Another quicker way of identifying a pike from a pickerel is by checking if there are spots on the fins. Pike have spots on their fins unlike pickerel so if you see that the fish has fins that are spotted then you got yourself a pike.

Also if you look closely at the tail fin where the tail forks in the middle of it, chain pickerel have more of a split tail than pike do. This feature is harder to see but as you catch these two fish more often it will become easier to see the difference in their forked tail fins.

Difference Underneath The Jaw

There are two features underneath the jaw of a pike and pickerel that you can see for telling the difference between them. The first one is their submandibular pores, what these pores help with is detecting vibrations in the water with the small hairs that they have inside of the pores and they play an important role in hunting prey.

These pores look like small black holes and chain pickerel have three to five submandibular pores on each side for a total of six to ten pores. Northern pike have five submandibular pores on average but they can sometimes have four to six of them, you will commonly see that they have ten pores total.

The second feature to look out for is their branchiostegal rays which are the curved bones that support their gills and they look like ridges. These rays are near their submandibular pores and their easy spot if you just flip the fish over and see underneath the bottom of its jaw.

The number of branchiostegal rays that chain pickerel have is around fourteen to seventeen rays per side, they have two sides for a total of twenty-eight to thirty-four rays. Northern pike have around thirteen to sixteen branchiostegal rays per side so they have about one less ray on each side than pickerel on average and a total of twenty-six to thirty-two rays.

When you’re counting the side of either the submandibular pores or the branchiostegal rays you only have to count one side since their lateral to each other.

Suborbital Line Difference

Have you ever noticed that small black line right under the eyes of a pickerel or a pike? That line is called the suborbital line and their suborbital lines look different.

Northern pike either don’t have this line or if they do it’s very small and not as visible compared to the suborbital line of a pickerel. The suborbital line of a chain pickerel is a lot more easier to see and it’s a little vertical so if you see the line pretty well it could be a chain pickerel.

Pike And Pickerel Distribution

The distribution of chain pickerel and pike is quite different and although their both freshwater fish, northern pike are distributed in a lot more regions throughout North America compared to chain pickerel.

There’s a reason why northern pike have northern in their name and that’s because they can be found all over the northern hemisphere. From West Virginia to Minnesota and even all the way to Russia, northern pike is a popular fish that many anglers sport fish for since they are active in many parts of freshwater.

Unlike pike which can be found all over North America, chain pickerel are not distributed as much as them and are mainly distributed in eastern areas of North America from Texas to Canada and down to Mississippi.

If you’ve ever fished in Mississippi and you thought that you caught a pike it’s most likely that you caught a pickerel since Mississippi freshwater has a lot of pickerel.

But even then northern pike can still be found in Mississippi freshwater and the other eastern parts of North America just like chain pickerel so if you happen to be fishing in any of these parts then knowing the difference between pike and pickerel is going to come in handy.

What Is The Largest Pike Ever Caught?

The present world record for the largest pike ever caught was an incredibly huge northern pike that weighed fifty-five pounds and one oz. and it was caught by an angler named Lothar Louis. The pike was caught in Lake of Grefeern which is located in Germany on October 16, 1986.

What’s crazy about this world record is that it’s still the current record even after three decades and soon to be four. The world record for the longest northern pike was a pike that had a length of 124 cm (48.8 inches) and it was caught by Michelangelo Schenone on September 21, 2021, in Lake Magglore in Italy so its a pretty new record.

Although it hasn’t been confirmed, there has been a pike that was claimed to have been caught by an angler named Czech Lukas Matejka in the Czech bohemia region. The pike was said to have weighed fifty-eight pounds and fourteen oz. and it had a length of 52.3 inches and was shown on video.

What Is The Biggest Pickerel Ever Caught?

The current world record for the biggest pickerel ever caught was a nine pound and six oz. chain pickerel caught in a lake by Baxley McQuaig Jr. in Homerville a place in Georgia on February 17, 1961.

Since pickerel are only found in northern parts of America pretty much all of the world records of the pickerel caught are from the United States of America. This means that if you ever want to beat the world record for biggest pickerel ever caught your best chance for that is to fish in the USA.

As for the longest pickerel ever caught it was a chain pickerel that had a length of 65 cm. (25.6 inches) caught by an angler named Burnie Haney. This long fish was caught in the Henderson Harbor of Lake Ontario which is in New York on November 4, 2019.

Do Pike And Pickerel Taste The Same? Pike Vs Pickerel Taste

No pike and pickerel do not taste the same, although there from the same fish family (Esocidae family) they have different tasting meat.

Northern pike has a big white flaky meat that’s more tasty than pickerel it has a more mild flavor that is sweet like walleye but it’s also fishy. Its meat is firm and I prefer to fry it when I eat it and it tastes even more delicious when you squeeze some lemon on top.

One thing about pike that I like more than pickerel is that it’s less bony compared to pickerel making it easier to fillet and prepare. Chain pickerel has a bit more of a gamey taste and its flaky meat is not as firm as the meat of northern pike but it’s just as mild and sweet as the meat of pike.

Even though I like the taste of pike more than pickerel, chain pickerel still has a tasty meat but if the fish is too small then I just toss it back into the water since it has a lot of bones compared to the meat it has which makes it too much of a hassle when I’m trying to fillet it.

So when it comes to the overall pike vs pickerel taste I prefer eating northern pike it’s less gamey and more firmer and since pike grow bigger than pickerel theirs a lot more meat to eat.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, chain pickerel and pike are two fish that may look the same but they’re really not and as long as you look closely at their features you will have an easy time seeing what makes them different from each other.

Now that you know the main differences between pike and pickerel and what to look for when you’re telling them apart you won’t have to get confused when you’re trying to find out what fish is which.