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Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©
Esox masquinongy - scientific name
(Native Fish) Single dorsal fin, upper half of cheek and gill cover has scales, body and dorsal fin have dark spots on lighter backgrounds, and six to 10 submandibular pores (underside of lower jaw). The muskellunge is a member of the Pike family (Esocidae). 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.
Naturally-reproducing populations of northern muskellunge are located primarily in the western Upper Peninsula, but they have been stocked in numerous lakes statewide. They can be caught by casting or trolling with very large plugs, spoons and spinners -- usually behind a wire leader -- that are retrieved or trolled at a fast rate or by bait anglers using large suckers. Michigan's Great Lakes muskellunge are most common in Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, which feature world-class fisheries for the large, toothy predators. Lake St. Clair has a fairly large fleet of charter boats that target muskellunge by trolling, and a growing contingent of small boat anglers that cast or jig for them as well.
An efficient "ambush" predator, lurking 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). Predominately a fish-eating fish, the Muskie eats suckers, minnows, perch, sunfishes and other fish available in its habitat. Larger Muskies have been known to attack and consume nearly any living animal, including small rodents, waterfowl and muskrats.
The muskie spawns in early spring shortly after the ice has melted, but after the spawning of the Northern Pike. Eggs are broadcast among vegetation, in water only 15 to 20 inches deep and with a temperature of about 55 degrees F. The young grow very rapidly for the first few years.
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 structure. If necessary, the muskie can withstand water temperatures up to 90 degrees F. Tiger muskellunge, a hybrid between northern pike and muskellunge, were once stocked in Michigan, but no longer are raised in state fish hatcheries. Naturally-produced tiger muskellunge are rarely caught, though they are more prevalent in lakes with high abundance of northern pike.
Learn more about how the DNR manages Michigan's muskellunge.