Forgotten Esox of Michigan
Here in Michigan, we’re blessed with so many places to chase Esox like Northern Pike and Muskie, places like Lake Hudson, Fletchers Pond, Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and up and coming to Lake Erie. come to mind. What many people don’t know is that we have a third Esox in Michigan. Esox americanus vermiculatus the Grass Pickerel is the smallest in the Esox family with the world record only being slightly over 1lb. This toothy little fish is very similar to its larger brethren but one key thing to keep in mind is that they are warm-water fish whereas pike and muskie are cool-water fish. So the bodies of water or the areas you will find them in are a bit different. Michigan is the northern edge of its range so there range in Michigan is mostly in the southern part of the state. Now they’re thought to be a common fish here in Michigan but biologist are a little worried because the overall population is down about 25% versus historical numbers within their range.
Common places to find this micro Esox is small to medium lakes with a soft or clay bottom and dense aquatic vegetation. Small to medium streams and rivers with a low gradient such as warm-water headwaters or emergent wetland areas are all good places to look for them. You tend to find good numbers in the clearer of these water, like its big brothers they rely a lot on their sight to feed. They feed mostly on small minnow and insects. They tend to stake out an area and sit motionless for hours waiting for prey to come by.
They are regularly mistaken for juvenile pike by anglers, so many anglers may have caught them and never known it. Grass Pickerel have a dark teardrop under their eye and a light-colored stripe against a darker background down the center of their back. Their sides have blotches or vertical lines and unlike the muskie and pike, it will lack spots or dark markings on their fins. At two years of age and at least 5 inches, they become sexually mature. Spawning can happen in late fall, early winter, or spring all that’s needed is water temperatures between 36° and 54°F. They scatter eggs in small batches over the vegetation. Eggs hatch out in 11 to 15 days and the parents do not stay around to protect them. Now fishing for them is pretty straightforward. They feed on small minnows, insect, and small frogs. So try small Original Rapalas in size 3 and 5, Small Mepps inland Spinner in 00 or 0, Johnsons Beatle Spins, Berkley Micro Twister tails in 1.5 inch and small live baits in the soft water season. Through the ice, you Panfish lures like teardrops tipped with spikes or waxworms have worked great for me. I have caught more of them through the ice than at any other time of the year. Target areas with dense standing coontail and cabbage.Also, wild rice beds and shallow Lilly pads can be home to these guys. An added bonus to trying to target them is that you might just catch some very large gills and crappies on these same baits. So tight lines and Screaming drags! Michigan Fishing Map Guide Series from Sportsman Connection Map Books, is a great source to pinpoint what lakes have some of them. Flip through the pages and read the survey's results for the lakes. They're listed as Green Pickerel or Grass Pickerel in the charts.