Though they may share a lot of similarities in shape and form, pickerel and pike are two different species altogether. In fact, most anglers just assume they have caught a small pike when they have a pickerel.
Several differences between the two are worth noting, especially if you’re struggling to separate the two. It’s easy to understand the differences, catch a small pike, and still assume you have a pickerel.
The best way to identify pickerel vs pike is by looking at size and coloration.
Pickerel vs Pike
Key Differences between Pickerel and Pike
One of the key differences is one of the most obvious. Northern pike are enormous in comparison to pickerel. There are also subtle differences between pike and pickerel that are worth noting. At first glance, they look similar in their patterning. However, on closer observation, there are differences.
Pickerel have medium to small spots or patterns along their scales that are often linked like chains. Pike, on the other hand, have smaller circles across their scales that aren’t linked at all.
It’s also important to note that just because pickerel and pike are different species, doesn’t mean they aren’t related. They are related and closely so.
Weight and Length Differences
A northern pike can easily reach lengths of 25”, with some even growing as long as 30”. A pickerel may be lucky if it grows to half that length, generally reaching only 10” to 15”.
When it comes to weight, a pike can reach up to 40lbs but are generally closer to 10lbs. Pickerel can grow as large as 9lbs but average only 2 to 4lbs. The time when a pike is most easily confused with a pickerel is when they are small and not fully grown yet.
Fins and Gills
The fins of both pickerel and pike are very different as well, even though the fins aren’t the first thing people think of when making the comparison. With pike, the fins are red or brown. However, they are more often somewhere in between.
Pike fins are a little more rounded as well. Pickerel fins are smaller in comparison and tend to have a faded look rather than the deeper colors of pike. Their gills are different too. A pike’s gills will lack any sort of scales, while a pickerel’s gills are covered in them.
Is Pickerel Good Eating
Pickerel are generally considered to be pretty good. Maybe they’re not the best dish in the world, but they have the advantage of not tasting very fishy, which is always a plus. Their meat is also flaky. So if you like fish tacos, pickerel is a good choice.
The skin is considered a no-go, however, so if you are cleaning a pickerel, it’s best to remove it entirely.
Best rig to use for Pickerel
Lures and live baits are a pickerel’s favorite, with spoons, topwater, jigs, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits being the favorite choices for anglers. They prefer many of the same things as their larger cousins, just on a smaller scale.
Pickerel feast on minnows, making them the best baitfish you can choose. Slow trolling is very effective with pickerel, especially in a slow boat, a live minnow, and a slip bobber.
Best rig to use for Pike
Many of the same things that work for pickerel also work for pike, with the addition of softbaits (on the large side) and jerkbaits. As far as live baits are concerned, pike prefer minnows as well, but you can add shiners, shads, ciscos, and suckers to that list as well.
Pike can cause havoc with bite-offs, so make sure you have a solid leader on there.
Though they are different species, pike and pickerel are closely related fish and even share some of their eating habits. If you’re looking for the big one, northern pike should be on your list. They are much larger than pickerel.
Pickerel are good-tasting fish in their own right, so size isn’t everything here. Thanks to their close relations, the same rig and most of the same lures or live baits work well with both. The only difference is the size since you will need larger baits for pike.
There are some hybrid versions of both pike and pickerel out there, and they’re sure to create even more confusion. However, now that you know the fundamental differences between the two, separating pickerel and pike should be a lot easier.
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