Walleye or Pickerel, the great debate

National Go Fishing Day was June 18, a great day to find a stream, a lake or pond, bait your hook, cast your line and catch a fish or two (or 10). The day brings up a debate that’s been going on for nearly 50 years—is the delicious spiky freshwater fish native to most of Canada and the northern United States a pickerel, or a walleye? It depends on who you ask.

“I call it walleye because it’s the proper name for the fish and there is also a different species of fish called pickerel,” said Jeremy Bochenek, an avid fisherman in southern Ontario. “I think people get it wrong due to a combination of upbringing, ignorance and stubbornness.”

The walleye is a freshwater fish in the perch family that is a popular and commonly-stocked game fish, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Walleye are long and thin, primarily gold and olive in colour, with a white belly. The back is crossed with five or more black bands. They have two dorsal fins—one spiny and one soft-rayed. The walleye’s mouth is large with sharp teeth and is named for its opaque, cloudy-looking eye, which is caused by a reflective layer of pigment called the tapetum lucidum. This layer helps it (and other nocturnal animals) see in low light.

The fish in question is often called a pickerel, particularly in other provinces like Manitoba, but in fact, the walleye and the pickerel are not at all related.

Now, let’s talk actual pickerels, or chain pickerels to be exact. Often called jackfish. Although the common name pickerel is loosely given to walleyes, the true pickerel, upbringing and nostalgia aside, is the chain pickerel.

“Chain pickerels are rather greenish, particularly the colour of their sides. They are about 30 inches in length, but sometimes may reach over 40 inches, and they can weigh up to 10 pounds. On average, their size is about 24 inches and three; however, pickerels of one to two pounds are most commonly caught,” states difference between.net.

The main reason why this fish is so easily confused with the pickerel is not because of its looks, but it may just come down to preference.

“It’s just what they’re called,” said most of the fishermen asked outside of Ontario, not too concerned with proper taxonomy of the fish. And when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what you call it—the real argument that can split up a family is whether you fry it in Shake n’ Bake or something homemade.

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