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Catching Muskies – All About Muskellunges
- Musk can live up to 30 years
- Maximum muskie length: 6 feet
- Maximum muskie weight: about 70 lbs
- Trophy Length: Over 4 feet
- Trophy Weight: Over 40 lbs
- Mature females are usually larger than males, but mature and grow more slowly.
Muskies are predatory fish that do not school and usually do not see each other.
They usually lurk near rocky or sandy banks in the middle of lakes, along weeds or other vegetation, and in shady waters near tree-lined shores. They prefer larger lakes with deep and shallow basins and large layers of aquatic plants.
They have the typical design of an ambush predator, an elongated body, a flat head and tail fins located far back on the body.
A stealthy muskie hunts motionless in wait. When a fish swims by (any fish, including other muskies), they attack, impaling their prey on their large fangs, turning it over and swallowing it head first. Surprisingly, the size of fish a muskie eats appears to be related to the final size it can reach. As the fish grows, the size of its prey naturally varies more and more. Even if many small fish are available, muskies may not be able to grow large without large fish to eat. Muskrats, ducks, shrews, mice, and frogs also appear in the stomach of muskrats from time to time.
Muskellunges are known to have a varied diet. They will eat other muskies and any fish they see, as well as ducklings, lesser muskrats, shrews, mice and frogs, and the largest muskies have been known to eat whole adult ducks. There is one report of a Wisconsin man in 1999 who was dangling his feet in the water (not fishing) when a medium-sized male swooped in and tried to swallow his toe! Finally he pulled the musk out of the water and pulled it out of his feet. The foot required 66 stitches and was eventually allowed to keep the fish, despite the illegal size and illegal fishing method.
It is not recommended use toes as bait.
Other facts about Muskellunges
Musky and pike (or “northerners”) look very similar. A surefire way to tell a muskie from a northern is to count the pores on the underside of the jaw: a muskie has six or more. A northerner has five or less.
Tiger muskellunge (E. masquinongy x lucius or E. lucius x masquinongy) is a hybrid of muskellunge and northern pike. Male hybrids are almost always sterile although females are sometimes fertile. Some hybrids are artificially produced and planted to be caught by fishermen. Tiger musks are usually smaller than non-hybrid musks, but grow faster. The body is often quite silvery and mostly or completely unspotted, but with indistinct longitudinal stripes.
Although interbreeding with other species of pike can complicate the classification of some individuals, zoologists usually recognize from zero to three subspecies of muskellunge.
- The Great Lakes (spotted) muskellunge (Esox masquinongy masquinongy) is the most common variety in the Great Lakes basin and the surrounding area. Freckles on the body form oblique lines.
- The Chautauqua muskellunge (E. m. ohioensis) is known from the Ohio River, Lake Chautauqua, Lake Ontario and St Lawrence River systems.
- The clear or striped muskellunge (E. m. immaculatus) is most common in inland lakes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, northwestern Ontario, and southeastern Manitoba.
If you want to catch muskies, you’ll need a heavy casting rod, a reel with enough straight wind, 20-35 pound test line, a variety of lures or live bait, and a lot of patience. Leave at least 20 minutes in each spot before moving on – the big fish are usually not very active.
It takes the average angler 20-80 hours to catch a legal muskie!
Muskies are generally not a food fish. As predatory fish, if fish feeding on food in their region have small amounts of toxic substances in their systems, they will accumulate in much larger amounts in the muscles that feed on them. Before you eat muskellunge, pay attention to the fishing recommendations of the lake or state where you are fishing.
Threats to Musky:
The health and success of muskellunge depends largely on the health and availability of aquatic plants in their environment. Minnesota anglers are starting to notice some of their favorite “weed beds” disappearing, reducing the spawning grounds and hunting grounds the muskies like to hunt. Measures are proposed, including a significant reduction in the number of permitted moorings on the lake shore, thereby reducing the human footprint on the lakes.
Musky and pike are considered sport and trophy fish in Minnesota, and are therefore valuable to the sport fishing community and tourism economy, but overfishing is harming the population of this solitary fish.
So fish carefully and practice catch-and-release fishing with this fish to preserve its continued abundance in all the Great Lakes.
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