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Catching Muskies – All About Muskellunges
- Muskies can live for 30 years
- Maximum length of a Muskie: 6 feet
- Maximum weight of a Muskie: about 70 pounds
- Trophy length: more than 4 feet
- Trophy weight: over 40 pounds
- Mature females tend to be larger than males, but mature and grow at a slower rate.
Muskies are a non-schooling predatory fish, which generally tend to stay out of sight of each other.
They usually persist near rock drops or sandbars in the middle of lakes, on weed beds or other vegetation, and in shady nearshore waters with large overhead trees. They prefer larger lakes with deep and shallow pools and large beds of aquatic plants.
They have a typical ambush predator design, long body, flat head, and caudal fin placed far back on the body.
The stealthy muskie hunts by not waiting motionless. When a fish swims by (any fish, including other muskies) they strike, impaling the animal on the large canine teeth, rotating it, and swallowing it head first. Strangely, the size of fish a muskie eats seems to be related to the final size it can reach. As the fish grows larger, the size of its prey naturally varies more. Even if there are plenty of small fish available, a muskie may not be able to grow without large fish to eat. Muskrats, ducks, shrews, mice, and frogs also appear in the bellies of muskies from time to time.
A varied diet:
Muskellunge are known to have a varied diet. They will eat other muskies and any fish they see, as well as ducks, lesser muskrats, muskrats, mice, and frogs, and larger muskies are known to eat whole adult ducks. There is a report of a Wisconsin man in 1999 who dangled his feet in the water (not fishing), when a medium-sized Muskie ran and tried to swallow his toes! He ended up pulling the muskie out of the water and extracting it from his feet. The foot required 66 points and was eventually allowed to keep the fish, despite the illegal size and illegal methods of fishing.
He is not recommended to use your toes as bait.
Other facts about Muskellunges
Muskies and Pikes (or “Northerns) are very similar. The foolproof way to tell a muskie from a northern is to count the pores on the bottom of the cheek: A muskie has six or more. A northern has five or less.
Tiger muskellunge (E. masquinongy x lucius or E. lucius x masquinongy) is a hybrid of the muskie and northern pike. Male hybrids are almost always sterile although females are sometimes fertile. Some hybrids are artificially produced and planted for fishermen to catch. Tiger muskies tend to be smaller than non-hybrid muskies but grow faster. The body is often quite silvery and largely or entirely unspotted but with indistinct longitudinal stripes.
Although interbreeding with other stingray species can complicate classification for some, zoologists typically recognize from zero to three subspecies of muskellunge.
- The Great Lakes muskellunge (spotted) (Esox masquinongy masquinongy) is the most common variety in the Great Lakes basin and surrounding areas. The spots on the body form oblique rows.
- The Chautauqua muskellunge (E. m. ohioensis) is known from the Ohio River, Chautauqua Lake, Lake Ontario, and St. Lawrence River systems.
- Clear or barred muskellunge (E. m. immaculatus) are most common in inland lakes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, northwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.
Catching the Muskie:
If you want to catch a muskie, you will need a heavy bait-casting rod, high-level reel, 20-35 pound test line, a variety of artificial lures or live bait, and a lot of patience. Allow at least 20 minutes in each location before moving – the big fish are usually not very active.
It takes the average angler 20-80 hours to catch a legal muskie!
Muskies generally do not eat fish. As predatory fish, if the fish that feed in the region have small amounts of toxic substances in their system, they will gather in larger numbers in the musklungs that feed on them. Before you eat a muskellunge, pay attention to the fishing advice of the lake or state in which you are fishing.
Threats to the Muskie:
The health and success of muskellunge is highly dependent on the health and availability of aquatic plants in their environment. Minnesota fishermen are starting to notice that some of their favorite “weed beds” seem to be disappearing, thus reducing the spawning sites and hunting grounds of the muskies they like to catch. Proposed measures include greatly reducing the number of docks allowed on lake shores, thereby reducing the human footprint on lakes.
The Muskie and Northern Pike are both considered sport and trophy fish in Minnesota, and are thus valuable to the sport fishing community and the tourism economy, but overfishing is hurting the population of this solitary fish.
So fish carefully, and practice catch-and-release fishing with this fish in order to preserve its continued abundance in all the great lakes.
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