Muskellunge, Esox masquinongy
Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Single dorsal fin, upper half of cheek and gill cover has scales, body and dorsal fin have dark spots on lighter backgrounds.
The Muskellunge is a member of the northern pike family. These fish are characterized by a long cylindrical body with a soft dorsal fin, and each has large powerful jaws shaped like a duck's bill and armed with numerous fang-like teeth.
The muskellunge, or muskie, as it is often called, is an extremely efficient "predator machine." It lurks near shore in the shadows of plants or submerged logs, and ventures forth only to strike swiftly at a prey fish (which it often takes back to a concealed area before eating). During summer's peak heat a muskie may move into slightly deeper, cooler waters but will still choose the protection of a drop-off or some underwater obstruction. If necessary, the muskie can withstand water temperatures up to 90 degrees F.
The muskie spawns in early spring shortly after the ice has melted, but after the spawning of the northern pike. Eggs are laid among nearby vegetation, in water only 15-20 inches deep and with a temperature of about 55 degrees F. The young grow very rapidly for the first few years, which is no wonder since few fish can match the muskie's really voracious appetite. Predominately a fish-eating fish, the muskie eats perch, suckers, catfish, minnows, sunfishes and probably any other fish available in its habitat. Larger muskies will attack and consume nearly any living animal, including small rodents, waterfowl and muskrats. Females grow faster and live longer than males, so most trophy-sized individuals are females. Indeed, muskies are second only to sturgeons as the Great Lakes' largest fish. Individuals have weighed in at more than 50 pounds and exceeded five feet in length! The average adult size is an impressive 28-48 inches long with a weight of 5-36 pounds.
These fish become sexually mature at three to five years of age some venerable old muskies have been recorded at more than 20 years old, but most seen by anglers are 3-15 years old.
Northern pike, bass, sunfish and yellow perch as well as some aquatic insects prey upon muskie young and severely reduce their numbers. Those that survive to adulthood probably need only fear bears, large birds of prey and people. People indeed, can be a serious enemy - the extreme desirability of this fish, coupled with its habit of spawning in shallows with little caution, sometimes leads to poaching.
For more information on how and where to catch muskellunge see our Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them and Better Fishing Waters.
Muskellunge graphic courtesy of Joseph R. Tomelleri and copyrighted.