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American pickerel

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The American pickerels are two subspecies of Esox americanus, a species of freshwater fish in the pike family (family Esocidae) of order Esociformes: the redfin pickerel, E. americanus americanus Gmelin, 1789, and the grass pickerel, E. americanus vermiculatus Lesueur, 1846.

The two subspecies are very similar, but the grass pickerel lacks the redfin’s distinctive orange to red fin coloration, its fins having dark leading edges and amber to dusky coloration. In addition, the light areas between the dark bands are generally wider than the bands on the body grass pickerel and narrower on the redfin pickerel. These pickerels grow to a maximum overall length of 40 cm (16 in) and a maximum weight of 2.25 pounds

The redfin and grass pickerels occur primarily in sluggish, vegetated waters of pools, lakes, and swamps, and are carnivorous, feeding on smaller fish. Larger fishes, such as the striped bass (Morone saxatilis), bowfin (Amia calva), and gray weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), in turn, prey on the pickerels when they venture into larger rivers or estuaries.

These fishes reproduce by scattering spherical, sticky eggs in shallow, heavily-vegetated waters. The eggs hatch in 11–15 days; the adults guard neither the eggs nor the young.

The E. americanus subspecies are not as highly prized as a game fish as their larger cousins, the northern pike and muskellunge, but they are caught by anglers. McClane’s Standard Fishing Encyclopedia describes ultralight tackle as a sporty if overlooked method to catch these small but voracious pikes.

Lesueur originally classified the grass pickerel as E. vermiculatus, but it is now considered a subspecies of E. americanus.

E. americanus americanus is sometimes called the brook pickerel. There is no widely-accepted English common collective name for the two E. americanus subspecies; “American pickerel” is a translation of the systematic name and the French brochet d’Amérique.