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Muskellunge (Muskie - Musky)
Muskellunge are uncommon to a degree, they are
large fish that are found in freshwater in North America. They
are the largest member of the pike family. They are known by
other names such as Muskie.
The muskellunge resembles closely the northern pike in their appearance as well as their behavior. Similar
to the other pikes, they are ambush predators and they have a
elongated body, anal, dorsal and pelvic fins and a flat head.
The fish ranges in length but usually is around 2-5 feet,
weighing up to 70 pounds. . The muskellunge is light silver
brown or green with dark vertical stripes on its flank.
Sometimes there are no markings on the fish. In contrast to the
northern pike which has a dark body with light markings, the
muskellunge has the opposite. You can also tell the fish apart
by the number of sensory pores. The northern pike never has more
than six and the muskellunge has seven.
The fish is found in the Great Lakes region and also in
Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. They also can be found in
Canada. Additionally, the fish has been caught as far south as
the Tennessee River valley. Many Georgia reservoirs have stocked
populations of muskellunge. In Ontario they are found in the
Northwest as well as regions of southern and northestern
In the summer, the fish has two home ranges; a deep range and a
shallower one. The shallow range is usually significantly
smaller than the deep range because shallow water heats up in
the summer time. But the fish will continually swim around the
water looking for prey and food in the water temperatures that
are conducive to him.
The muskellunge or muskies will eat almost anything that it can fit
into its mouth. Their diet mainly consists of fish but it also
includes mice, muskrats, ducklings, frogs, crayfish, snakes and
other small mammals and small birds. The fish has a really large
mouth and the teeth are needle like. They like to eat their prey
head first. They can eat their prey in one single gulp. The
muskie will actually eat a prey that is up to 30% of their total
length. In the springtime, the muskie prefers smaller prey
because their metabolism is running slower. In the fall, though,
they go for the bigger prey as they are preparing for winter.
Similar to the northern pike, a muskellunge will increase in
weight as it grows longer.
Their behavior is quite interesting. They like to form small
schools in specific and distinct territories and have sometimes
been referred to as gregarious. Spawning takes place in mid to
late spring which is later than the northern pike. They spawn in
shallow vegetated areas. They prefer sand or rock bottoms for
spawning allowing the eggs to not sink and suffocate in mud.
In an attempt to establish dominance over a territory, the males
arrive first for spawning. The period of spawning lasts from
five to ten days and is mainly done at nighttime. Soon after
spawning the adult fish leave the eggs. The embryos that are not
eaten by fish, crayfish or insects hatch within two weeks of
spawning. They live on yolk until the mouth is fully developed
and then they feed on zooplankton. Soon afterwards, they begin
to be able to prey on fish. Young muskellunges usually are 12
inches by November 7 of their first year of life.
Muskellunges do have predators. They are
anglers and large birds. The young muskies must be concerned
about being eaten by other muskies, northern pike and bass. The
fish has a low reproductive rate and grows rather slowly so they
are sometimes overfished. Some localities have placed programs
in place to make sure the fish is not overfished.
Anglers or fishermen like to catch muskies mainly for sport or as
trophies. They are very fast swimmers but not very maneuverable.
The fast speed runs are usually short but they are intense. The
muskie also will shake his head in an attempt to get rid of the
hook in its mouth. They are known to leap in the air when on a
hook and do acrobatic displays.
The muskie is a tough and challenging fish to catch. It’s been
referred to as the “fish of ten thousand casts.” Anglers attempt
to catch the fish by using small lures in spring or during cold
times and larger lures in the fall or heat of summertime.
Anglers have been told and know and are very much encouraged to
catch and release the muskellunge due to their low population.
The muskellunge could become an endangered species if
anglers do not respect the catch and release method with these
fish. It is important to keep the population healthy. The
fish is a beautiful fish and fun to catch but then it is
important to release it.