Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Grass Pickerel

 Photo: Marcia Rubin

A grass pickerel, Esox americanus, lurks in the shallows. Marcia Rubin - check out her website HERE - sent this photo along. She snapped the fish in its natural haunts in a small tributary stream of the Chagrin River, in northeast Ohio. Note how the animal's dappled mottling allows it to blend nearly seamlessly with the rock and silt of the stream bottom. You're not likely to see this predator until it's too late.

Grass pickerel, or grass pike as they are sometimes known, are very cool little piscine predators. Sleek and tubelike, a hunting grass pickerel will loaf quietly in dense vegetation, awaiting the appearance of some hapless lesser fish. When a minnow or shiner swims too near... BOOM! - the pickerel explodes to life, lunges forth with great rapidity, and seizes its victim.

We once kept a grass pickerel in an aquarium at work; we probably had the fish for a year or two. It was always a crowd-pleasing performance when we would dump some minnows into the tank. Quick as a wink, the mini-pike would snap them up.

A sterile but illustrative photo of a grass pickerel, courtesy Wikipedia. This fish is the little brother to the much larger Northern pike, Esox lucius, and muskellunge, Esox masquinongy. While those two underwater Tyrannosaurus' can weigh 60 and 70 lbs., respectively, the comparatively dinky grass pike is lucky to tip the scales at 2 lbs. Small stature aside, the grass pike is probably every bit the savage aquatic predator as is its larger, better known cousins.

Grass pickerel are at least locally common in many of Ohio's better streams, but are not often seen. They love to hide in dense beds of aquatic plants, such as luxuriant stands of water-willow, Justicia americana. We used to catch them with some regularity when kick-seining through water-willow stands.

Thanks to Marcia for sharing her photo of one of our more interesting fish!



A.L. Gibson said...

My father grew up in rural Clark county, Ohio during the 50's and 60's and spent much of his free time fishing the pristine waters of Honey Creek. He has reminisced to me how enormous sycamores lined the creek where wood ducks would abound with small mouth bass, darters, grass pickerel and suckers packed full in the pools and riffles. The creek remains but the sycamores dead/cut and gone as are the woods ducks and the beautiful fish diversity replaced with creek chubs. Such is life...

Jim McCormac said...

That's an all too common story, unfortunately, Andrew. The same forces that have caused massive algal blooms in some of our most prominent lakes have also not been kind at all to our creeks and rivers.