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The Ozark Pike

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June 27, 2013
Published in News & Tips > Fishing > Pike
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OzarkPike blogMany of the free flowing streams of the southern Missouri Ozarks contain a small fish which resembles the northern pike. The chain pickerel is a diminutive cousin of the much larger northern species.

As a child I saw a few grass pickerel in the swamps of our southeast Missouri farm. However, I heard stories of hard fighting pickerel from the Current River, almost 100 miles away in the foothills of the Ozarks.

I became infatuated with these pike of the Ozarks. I tried to catch a grass pickerel in my area, but never succeeded. I forgot about the charming fish until after graduate school. Once I landed a job as a park superintendent in the Ozarks, I renewed my search for the pickerel.

I fished hard, in several locations, with no luck. Then Bob Todd, editor of the River Hills Traveler invited me on a canoeing and fishing trip into the vast Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. He assured me there was a good chance of catching a chain pickerel.

After catching numerous largemouth bass and making what seemed like 10,000 casts, I had about given up my mission. I cast my big spinnerbait next to a sunken log. The bait stopped abruptly. I thought I had snagged. But, with a little pressure, the fish moved and my line zipped through the murky water. Next a long, slender fish erupted from the water and tail walked across the surface. I suspected it was a gar.

“There is your first chain pickerel,” Todd said. “And it is a good one.”

The magnificent specimen had broken my curse. We snapped a few photos of what we thought to be a 3-pound fish and returned it to the swamp. My fascination with these  rare fish had just been pushed into high gear.

I began fishing for chain pickerel at every opportunity. I caught them from the Current River, Jack’s Fork and Eleven Point rivers. Most came from side sloughs or bays. They hang out in the dense, weedy growth to await a chance to ambush their prey.

Most pickerel I caught  measured from 8 inches up to 18 inches. I set out on a quest to catch much larger fish. It seemed the further south I went the bigger the fish. A corp of pickerel fishermen out of Van Buren often caught pickerel in February over 4 pounds.

I set up camp on the Eleven Point River, bordering the Irish Wilderness. My wife and I steadily caught rainbow trout on live minnows. Then my wife hooked a big fish. When it tail-walked, I realized she had a sizable chain pickerel. It measured 22 inches.

Having heard that big pickerel often travel in pairs, I cast the largest minnow we had in the bucket to the same spot. An immediate jolt vibrated up my rod. A big, powerful fish erupted from the water.

The pickerel measured a little over 28 inches and may have been a new state record fish. However, we were deep in the wilderness having fun. We were happy to photograph the fish and return it to the Eleven Point River. Chain pickerel, a cousin to Northern pike, grow large in southern Missouri, such as this 28 1/2-inch specimen from the Eleven Point River.

Tagged under Read 3704 times Last modified on March 24, 2014
Bill Cooper
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Bill Cooper is a 40-year veteran outdoor writer from Missouri. He is a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Missouri where he earned a Masters Degree in Outdoor Education. He is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and a past president of the Missouri Outdoor Communicators. Bill received the Conservation Educator of the Year Award from the Conservation Federation of Missouri in 2000 and the Conservation Communicator Award in 2008.

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