Breaking down a myth
Sudbury-area anglers have been calling walleye a ‘pickerel’ for as long as anyone can remember
Here in the North and even parts of southern Ontario, anglers have been calling walleye a “pickerel” for as long as anyone can remember.
In conversations with anglers, there has been countless times, I’ve been told that I sound American when I say “walleye” and that we don’t have any walleye here in the North, they’re pickerel. Growing up as a kid that is what I used to call them, too, but after taking fish and wildlife in college, I started calling them by their true name, which is walleye.
By curiosity, I went on a Google search trying to find information that would support how this great-tasting fish got mislabelled and I couldn’t find anything. It was likely passed down by generations of anglers and will for now remain a mystery.
Now, I have my own theory, which is based on being poked and cut many times by the long spiny dorsal fin and razor-sharp gill plate. I’m sure anyone who’s had to make up a homemade bandage consisting of paper towel and duct tape to stop the profuse bleeding can relate.
One thing to be aware of is that some restaurants may take advantage of this and have “fresh pickerel” as a special and not what most refer to as our local pickerel, which may in fact be chain pickerel. This is extremely rare, but since it did happen to me, I always make it a point to ask.
I don’t believe this article will have any impact on what we here in the North call pickerel and we’ll suddenly see a change in lingo, but here are some facts about the two species.
Walleye (scientific name Sander Vitreus), AKA pickerel, have a large, elongated body, back is olive-green to brown with lighter sides with yellow flecks. The dorsal fins are separated by spiny and soft dorsal and it has a distinctive white area on the lower tip of the caudal fin. They also have large teeth that are razor sharp, which helps when foraging on cisco, perch, small suckers and minnows.
Let’s not forget about their eyes, which have led to why we call them walleye. They have large eyes, which are layered with a special pigment that attracts and reflects even the slightest amount of light, giving them an advantage in low light conditions when their prey is more active. This is why they do so well in murky or stained waters of the North and will actually seek dark areas of cover during sunny conditions to avoid the light.
Chain pickerel (Esox Niger) is a member of the pike family. It has a distinctive, dark, chain-like pattern on its greenish sides and looks very similar to northern pike. In fact, it looks so similar an angler would have a hard time distinguishing it apart.
Chain pickerel can be found in the southeastern portion of Canada along the coast in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. An average size chain pickerel caught by anglers is less than two pounds. Other nicknames are jack fish, jacks, eastern pickerel and grass pike.
In the end, whether you call it pickerel or walleye, bottom line is these golden treats filleted up taste darn good no matter how you label them.
Good luck and tight lines!
A walleye, also known as a pickerel.