Fishing & Boating News

“Munchkin” The Needle in a Haystack

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

A true phantom of the lake, fishing for grass pickerel would be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Photo by Ed Snyder
(Dec. 20, 2005 - ) “What the heck is THAT!!? A gar? Exclaimed the baffled angler holding up his spinner bait by finger-tips with a rather “toothy-critter” wriggling and waggling beneath it! After spotting a tear drop marking below the critters eye, I grinningly informed him that it wasn’t a gar but a “munchkin“. “A WHAT? He expletive deleted while trying to shake it off!! ……A grass pickerel, I quickly added before he had an apoplexy attack! Esox americanus vermiculatus- Grass pickerel, Grass pike, Mud pike, little pickerel, redfin, or jack-fish, are the smallest member of the Pike family. Muskellunge, Northern Pike, and Eastern Chain Pickerel are its larger relatives who exceed their mini cousin’s weight by many, many pounds. This lil’ critter rarely exceeds 10 inches in length, in fact, the rod & reel world record grass pickerel weighs in at only one pound. Though a Grass Pickerel resembles its northern cousin, the Pike, with the same long, torpedo shaped body, that’s where the resemblance ends as the grass pickerel’s most distinctive characteristic is a teardrop shaped spot below the eyes. Its fins are very plain, almost translucent, with no chain-like marks on their body. But true to the inherit feature of all pikes, the little grass pickerel has a mouth full of razor sharp teeth! A true phantom of the lake, fishing for grass pickerel would be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Where grown-up versions such as “Big Chip” Tiger Musky, “Minnetonka” Great Northerns, and east coast Chained Pickerel, would excite and delight with aggressive bites and fights, the ‘munchkin’ bite, however, would probably become a missed adventure unless accidentally hooking itself. Mostly found in clear, densely vegetated waters of streams, springs, marshes, oxbows, overflows, and pothole ponds of inland lakes throughout the southeastern US, they can also be found in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes drainage areas. Grass pickerel prefer clear waters, particularly areas that have not been ditched, dredged or channelized, as they avoid turbid or muddy waters with silt bottoms. The best time to catch these “munchkin” pickerel here on Rayburn would be when they spawn in the spring when water temperatures range from 43 to 53 degrees, where they migrate from deeper waters into shallower waters in the back of protected coves, feeder creeks, and sloughs. Grass Pickerel spawn by attaching their eggs to vegetation. Adult “munchkins” feed primarily on minnows, crayfish, small fish, and some aquatic insects, as well as moths, butterflies, or other bugs unlucky enough to fall into the water. Since adults range in size from only 5.5 to 10 inches in length, grass pickerel are not targeted by anglers because of their small size, however, anglers using live minnows or various types of small spinners fished along the edge of shoreline vegetation or clumps of Johnson or torpedo grass during the spring bass, crappie, or bream spawns, would have a chance of catching one of these rare fish. Having absolutely no value as a food fish, they are looked upon as being an oddity catch and are kept only to be put in aquariums for viewing by the curious. Neat little critters with colorful, but menacing looks with its long rows of needle sharp teeth, the ’munchkin’ is a prized catch for only those who wish to see one. Lake Sam Rayburn has the unusual mark of distinction for holding the Texas State record grass pickerel of 0.44 ozs- measuring 13 & 3/4 inches long, caught on a rod and reel March 04-1995 by bass tournament angler, Pete Ellis, who was fishing a bass tournament at the time. Not exactly an “OH-WOW-WHATTA-CATCH” by any means, but Pete’s unusual catch has held the Texas State Record now for over 10 years.