Pickerel are reported by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation to be found in most of the Finger Lakes. They are rare or extirpated in Conesus and Owasco Lakes and were once found in Otisco Lake but are now absent there, but all the other lakes have decent populations. Their numbers and average sizes fluctuate over the years. Keuka Lake is currently loaded with small nuisance pickerel but there are plenty of nice ones available there too. Canandaigua Lake also has some very nice fish. The best fishery in the region for pickerel is probably Cayuga Lake's north end. It's loaded with numbers of quality fish. Although I haven't fished Canadice or Hemlock Lakes in years, they certainly deserve special mention.
Pickerel are capable fighters and superb eating. I enjoy fishing for pickerel, especially on Cayuga Lake. Action is the attraction! I don’t have a problem with keeping a bunch of pickerel since they are very underexploited. However, they are important to have in the fisheries since they keep panfish populations under control. De-hooking pickerel can be a challenge. They are hard to hold and have very sharp teeth. I’ve received more nasty cuts from 16” pickerel than I have from handling 35” pike! In 2017 I know of two people that had to make trips to the hospital ER to remove hooks that got imbedded in their respective hands while trying to handle/dehook feisty pickerel.
During the past few seasons I've done a fair amount of guiding focusing on pickerel. My clients have a blast chasing these little demons! It's a lot of fun working the various lures for them and we get a lot of action, including some nice largemouth bass, occasional pike, smallmouths and panfish too. I have clients who enjoy hooking and catching pickerel moreso than largemouth bass. Pickerel hit very hard and fight well. If you want or need action - pickerel are the way to go! And when fishing pickerel, you'll likely catch other species like largemouth bass!
For a delicious change of pace, try pickerel patties! There are plenty of great recipes online, or you can try mine in the "chef" section under "the Fishing." People need to harvest more pickerel on Cayuga and Keuka Lakes.
The pickerel in the "Species Photo" is a 23" taken by Jessica in January 2008 on the south end of Cayuga Lake. The fish hit a Lunker City shaker in the Mahi Mahi color.