long, slender body; snout resembles duck bill; color green to olive-brown above, wavy or worm-like bars on sides and light beneath
slow moving, heavily vegetated areas of larger lakes and rivers in the upper 2/3 of the state
mostly fish as adults
The grass pickerel, as its name implies, prefers a vegetated habitat. In recent collections it has been found in small Mississippi River tributary marsh areas in Clayton and Muscatine counties. Historically, it has been observed in the upper reaches of the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Iowa and the lower reaches of its tributaries in southeastern Iowa. Twelve specimens were captured in Louisa County during a 1940 fishery survey and again in 1943 at the same site. Several more specimens were collected in this fishery's survey in a small tributary to the Cedar River in Muscatine County.
The body of the grass pickerel is long and slender, like the northern pike and muskellunge. Its snout resembles a duck-bill when viewed from the top. The color is green to olive-brown above, with wavy or worm-like bars on the side and light beneath. Both the cheeks and the opercles on the head are fully covered with scales. The branchiostegal rays number 11 to 13, and there are 4 mandibular pores. There are about 105 scales along the lateral line and 12 soft rays in the dorsal fin. It is a small fish, rarely exceeding 12 inches in length and usually from 7 to 10 inches at maturity.
Grass pickerel, like all members of this family, are carnivorous and voracious feeders. Small fishes make up the bulk of the diet, but aquatic insects and their larva are also eaten in significant quantities. The species prefers weedy areas, where it hunts by ambush, darting out from concealment to seize its prey.
The grass pickerel spawns in the early spring in very shallow waters. Eggs are usually broadcast over submergent vegetation and are unattended. There is some evidence in part of its natural range of an additional spawning period in late fall or early winter -- but not in Iowa. Here the fish reaches a length of about 3 or 4 inches the first year but seldom exceeds 13 inches when fully grown.