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Difference Between Walleye and Pickerel

wall-eye-fishWalleye vs Pickerel

A walleye is sometimes called a pickerel, particularly in English-speaking parts of Canada, but in fact, the walleye and the pickerel are not at all related. However, both are members of the same family, the pike family or Esocidae.

Walleyes are freshwater perciform fishes. Their scientific name is ‘Sander vitreus’, but also formerly as ‘Stizostedion vitreum’. These fishes are native to Canada, and also to the northern United States. There are two kinds of walleye, and the most common is the ‘yellow walleye’ (sander vitreus vitreus). They are called this name to distinguish them from the endangered ‘blue walleye’ (Sander vitreus glaucus). Blue walleyes are now extinct in the Great Lakes, and are bordering on complete extinction everywhere else in the world.

Walleyes are named in this way because their eyes reflect light, just like those of cats. The fish are able to see well in low-light conditions, and even in turbid waters, because of the light-gathering attributes of its eyes. The walleye’s vision allows the fish to populate the deeper regions of the water. They are often found in deeper water, especially when the climate is warm.

The color of walleye is primarily olive and gold. The common name of the fish in French is ‘doré’, which means golden. Walleyes can reach lengths of about 75 cm, or 30 inches, and can weigh up to 7 kg or 15 lbs.

Walleyes are very popular with anglers, therefore catching them is regulated by natural resource agencies. They are easier to catch when its dark, around dusk and dawn, because they extensively feed during those times. When the water is turbid, preventing light from penetrating, walleyes also thrive in catching prey. Anglers take advantage of this to hook them. Many consider walleyes to have the best taste among freshwater fishes, and that is why they are so popular.

Now, let’s talk about pickerels:

Their exact name is Chain Pickerels (Esox niger), and they are also freshwater fishes. Sometimes they are called federation pikes or federation pickerels. They are also found in Canada, North America, and in other regions as well. Although the common name ‘pickerel’ is loosely given to walleyes, the true pickerel is the chain pickerel. In southern US, they are nicknamed as ‘jack fish’.

Chain pickerels are rather greenish, particularly the color of their sides. They are about 30 inches in length, but sometimes may reach over 40 inches (although this is rare), and they can weigh up to 10 lbs. On average, their size is about 24 inches and 3 lbs. Reportedly however, pickerels of 1-2 lbs are most commonly caught.

They catch prey via ambush. They lunge explosively at their prey, and secure the food with their sharp teeth. They may sometimes leap out of the water to catch low-flying insects and dangling lures of anglers. Many think of them as ‘trash fishes’ and not really good for eating, but edible nonetheless.


1. Walleyes have great vision under low-light conditions and turbid waters; they use this advantage to catch prey. Pickerels do not have this eyesight ability, but catche their prey with quick lunges and ferocity.

2. (Yellow)Walleyes are olive and golden in color, while pickerels are greenish.

3. Walleyes are slightly larger and heavier than pickerels.

4. Walleyes significantly taste better than pickerels.

5. Walleyes are found in deeper waters, while pickerels thrive in shallower waters.

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  1. Walleye is an American name never seen or heard until American visitors started fishing in Canada. There are many lakes and rivers in Canada named Pickerel, some hundreds of years old. There are no water bodies named Walleye in Canada or in the USA that I am aware of.

    • so what, the names of the lakes don’t matter. People do call walleye pickerel but it is a minomer case closed. The information presented by the website is scientifically accurate, regardless of what you may call this fish. FYI, there is a “Walleye Lake” and it is located in Northwestern Ontario.

    • You’re wrong, we have lakes that are called “pickerel” because they actually contain CHAIN PICKEREL. Pickerel are a completely separate species of fish from walleye.

  2. The article has this one thing wrong: walleyes are members of the perch family — percidae; pickerel are members of the pike family — esocidae.

    Pickerel is actually an old English word meaning little pike so, despite the fact that it’s been used in Canada for walleyes for centuries, it’s really not the correct term for walleyes, which are not related to the pikes at all.

    On the other hand, there are really no actual, true pickerel (such as the chain pickerel or the grass pickerel) native to Canada. Although there are a couple of spots where you might catch a true pickerel in Canada, in those few spots, they’re fairly uncommon. I venture to suggest that there are, at most, a handful of people in Canada who’ve ever caught an actual, true pickerel from Canadian waters and most of them probably thought it was just a little northern pike. That’s why the name, when (erroneously) applied to walleyes, doesn’t create confusion for us.

  3. Oh, and by the way, the picture you have accompanying this article is neither a pickerel nor a walleye so I’m not sure why it’s there at all!

    • The picture shows a fish with three dorsal and two ventral fins, as seen on the Cod. Walleye and Pickerel have two dorsal and one ventral fin.
      The fish shown sure looks like some kind of a cod, and that is my story. What kind? Reply if you know.
      Curious Erik.

  4. Walleye are “not” in the pike family at all as stated in this article! They are a member of the perch family!

    • My boyfriend and I just googled that (from a reliable internet source) as I was surprised and he was 99.9% sure that was inaccurate.

  5. American Anglers call Canada geese Canadian geese so I will continue to call walleye the proper name which in my opinion is pickerel because that is what I want to do

  6. Pike and Walleye are not in the same family and therefore the article is Not scientifically correct. Walleye and Perch have the same skeletal structure although Perch are much smaller only up to 2 lbs in size. Walleye grow up to 15 lbs in size but both have roughly the same taste, excellent.
    Pike has a much different skeletal structure which is harder to debone with their y bones going the length of the fish. They are aggressive grow extremely large over 40 lbs have a much larger mouth than the Walleye.

    • Very good sir. WallEye are in the Percidae family.. I think the author of this piece is probably mixing up Pickrel with Northern Pike. They are different but in the same family.

      Pickrel and Pike are not good for eating… they are very boney.. Skeletal-wise they are probably closer to being frogs than being fish.. so…think of a frog without the legs and add teeth and fins… I don’t particularly like frog legs… but NOBODY wants to eat the body of a frog…so… there you go…

      • What planet are you presently living on ?
        You, as well as other non experienced and without empirical knowledge are speaking solely for yourself .
        My 70 yr old historically founded fishing club members ALL have the ” informed ” ability to successfully fillet winter , spring , or misummer pike into 3 wonderful fillets for the fryer , and i or they would defy you to be able to tell me if it was any different or even BETTER tasting than any walleye or pickerel !
        Also ….how do you figure pickerel is too bony ??
        I can fillet a pickerel in 2 minutes time with out a bone in it and i am not half as experienced as the senior members in our club .
        This goes for other fishermen i often frequent our nortyhern waters with ! Get you facts straight from the informed and experienced fisherman before pontificating fiction on a globally read format!

  7. Regardless of what the article claims, the blue walleye is not completely extinct in the great lakes. People do still reel in the odd one.

  8. I used to fish in lake St Clair, while in practice in the Detroit are in the 70th -80th and also for Musky. That lake is between Detroit and Windsor.
    Fishing was great in those years have no idea about the present time.

  9. … Yes, the use of “pickeral or pickerel” in Canada is a Canadian colloquialism in use since the Great War period or so in place of the more American “walleye”. I have used the term for decades and I will never use the W word (tongue in cheek) as I want to keep the term alive. I have fished for (and written on the subject) for over 40 years and anyone I meant on the water never confused Redfin, Chain or Grass pickerel for Walleye. It is simply a beloved “local” term. And, yes, using the photo of a Cod in the article doesn’t help lol, it’s simply lazy. Another issue is the use of European Perch in place of North American perch which may look kinda similar bit have nothing to do with eachother, or a Zander, or a Sauger lol….

  10. The species’ official name used to be Yellow Pickerel, larger cousin of the Yellow Perch. It should not be confused with a Chain Pickerel, which is actually a sub-species of the Northern Pike. In some parts of the southern states they were traditionally called a Wally Eyed Pikes. In the 50s and 60s when fishing shows started popping up on television saying Wally Eyed Pike was a mouth full so they always called them by their nickname… Walleye. That name stuck. Many Americans go north to Canada each year to go fishing and lodge owners and outfitters had to start calling Walleye to avoid confusion. I don’t know about the rest of Canada but in 1982 the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officially started calling them Walleye in their publications and dropped Yellow Pickerel. It does not matter what you call them. They are the one of the best tasting fishing in the world. I think Speckled Trout is the best in the world. Again, Americans call Speckled Trout Brook Trout.

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