Musky – Muskie – Muskellunge – Esox Masquinongy
The mysterious fish that will hook you into countless hours of boat time yet not letting itself be hooked upon your lure. It only takes one experience of feeling that jolt at the end of you line, the power, the acrobatics in midair and you may be doomed. Being the King of all freshwater fish allows the Musky to only feed when it needs to. Maybe this is why they follow lures rather than smashing every lure that is retrieved. Others believe they follow the lure presented in order to chase it out of the area. Whatever the reason it can be frustrating but what other fisherman counts how many fish they see as a good day.
- Muskies spawn in April or May when the water get to about 48 to 55 degrees.
- A female Musky can lay up to 200,000 eggs. Since the Musky spawns late in the year, compared to other fish, the spawn has a low percentage of survival.
- Minnesota state record musky 54lbs, Lake Winnibigoshish – 1957 – Tiger Musky 34lbs – Lake Elmo – 1999
- Most 50″ Muskies are 15 years or older. This is why catch and release is so important.
- There are three so called strains of Muskies – Spotted, Barred, Clear plus the Tiger Hybrid (cross between a Northern Pike and Musky)
Musky closely resemble other Esocids such as the northern pike and American pickerel in both appearance and behavior. Like other pikes, the body plan is typical of ambush predators with an elongate body, flat head and dorsal, pelvic and anal fins set far back on the body. Muskellunge attain lengths of 60–150 cm (2–5 ft) and weights of over 30 kg (66 lb). The fish are a light silver, brown or green with dark vertical stripes on the flank, which may tend to break up into spots. In some cases, markings may be absent altogether, especially in fish from turbid waters. This is in contrast to northern pike which have dark bodies with light markings. A sure way of distinguishing the two similar species is by counting the sensory pores on the underside of the mandible. A muskie will have seven or more per side while the northern pike never has more than six. The lobes of the caudal (tail) fin in muskellunge come to a sharper point while those of northern pike are more generally rounded. In addition, unlike pike, muskies have no scales on the lower half of the operculum.
Muskies prey upon anything that fits in the mouth. Most of the diet consists of fish but it also includes crayfish, frogs, ducklings, snakes, muskrats, mice and other small mammals. The mouth is large with many large and hair-like teeth. Muskies will attempt to take their prey head-first, sometimes in a single gulp. They will take prey items that are up to 30% of their total length. In the spring, they tend to prefer smaller bait as their metabolism is slower and large bait in fall prior to winter.
Muskellunge are sometimes gregarious, forming small schools. They spawn in mid to late spring, somewhat later than northern pike, over shallow, vegetated areas. The males arrive first and attempt to establish dominance over a territory. Spawning may last from five to ten days and occurs mainly at night. The zygotes are negatively buoyant and slightly adhesive; they adhere to plants and are then abandoned by the adults. Those embryos which are not eaten by fish, insects or crayfish hatch within two weeks. The larvae live on yolk until the mouth is fully developed, at which time they begin to feed on copepods and other zooplankton. They soon begin to prey upon fish. Juveniles will generally attain a length of 30 cm (12 inches) by November 7th of the first year.
Adult muskellunge have few predators other than large birds of prey and anglers, but juveniles are consumed by other muskies, northern pike, bass and sunfish. The musky’s low reproductive rate and slow growth make populations highly vulnerable to overfishing. This has prompted some jurisdictions to institute artificial propagation programs in an attempt to maintain otherwise unsustainably high rates of angling effort and habitat destruction.
Anglers seek large muskies as trophies or for sport. Most serious musky anglers are catch-and release fishermen. The fish attain impressive swimming speeds but are not particularly maneuverable. The highest speed runs are usually fairly short, but can be quite intense. Muskies are known for their strength and for their tendency to leap from the water in stunning acrobatic displays. A challenging fish to catch, the muskie has been called, “The fish of ten thousand casts”. Anglers tend to use smaller lures in spring or during cold front conditions and larger lures in fall or the heat of summer. The average lure is 20–30 cm (6–10 inches) long but longer lures of 35–65 cm (12–24 inches) are not uncommon in the musky angler’s arsenal. Anglers are strongly encouraged to practice catch and release when fishing for muskellunge.
Here are some effective methods for handling large northern pike and musky:
Hand Release: Grip the fish over the back, right behind the gills (never by the eye sockets!) and hold it without squeezing it. With the other hand, use a pliers to remove the hooks, while leaving all but the head of the ;fish in the water. Sometimes hooks can be removed with the pliers only; the fish need never be touched.
Landing net: Hooks can be removed from some fish even as they remain in the net in the water. If that’s not possible, lift the fish aboard and remove the hooks while the fish is held behind the head and around the tail. To better restrain large fish, stretch a piece of cloth or plastic over the fish and pin it down as if it were in a straight jacket.
Stretcher: A stretcher is made of net or porous cloth about 2 to 3 feet wide stretched between two poles. As you draw the fish into the cradle and lift, thefold of the mesh supports and restrains the fish. This method requires two anglers.
Tailer: Developed by Atlantic salmon anglers, a tailer is a handle with a loop at one end that is slipped over the fish’s tail and tightened. The fish is thus securely held, though the head must be further restrained before the hooks are removed.