In all fresh water, there is no other fish like it. Big, streamlined, camouflaged, the “muskie” has a devilish grin—and a wicked set of teeth.
Fishermen tell me that you don’t expect to catch a muskie in an hour or two. Many people have spent days—even years—trying to catch this elusive fish.
Because it is fairly hard to catch, and a lot of people really want to catch one, the economic value of the muskellunge is quite high. Lots of guides, boat renters, and sports suppliers make quite a bit of their income from the chase of this fabulous fighting fish.
And this is a remarkable fish, indeed. The only freshwater fish which is larger is the sturgeon, muskies can run up to over five feet in length and nearly 70 pounds in weight.
It certainly is at the top of the food chain wherever it lives. A total predator, it doesn’t eat vegetation at all, and it only will consume animals which are alive.
Its main food is, of course, fish. When it is little, it eats littler fish. When full grown, it can vary its diet with muskrats, ducklings, other water birds, anything aquatic.
It can swallow another fish more than half its size.
The range of this big fish is fairly small. In general, it is the Great Lakes basin, with an arm into western Quebec, and another to Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods.
It also extends south into Iowa, Illinois, and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Rather oddly, it is not native to the rivers and lakes north of Lake Superior.
The colour of the muskellunge varies quite a bit, but almost always consists of dark markings on a light background. This is in contrast to the Northern Pike, which has the colours the other way round.
The actual colour can vary from greenish-gold to brown, with the marks going from brownish to black.
This patchy colouring enables the muskie to disappear by just staying still in the water weeds where it likes to hide.
Muskellunge spawn in the spring—and always in shallow water (less than two feet). They don’t make any kind of a “nest,” nor do they guard their young as many fish do.
They swim around together, releasing eggs and sperm, and then go away to forget about the whole thing.
A female can produce anywhere up to 200,000 eggs at one spawning. They need to have a lot of eggs because the hatchlings are eaten by anything bigger than they are.
Where pike and muskellunge spawn close to each other, the pike always wins because they spawn about two weeks ahead of the muskies, so they have a real feast right at hand.
Muskellunge once were caught commercially in the 1800s. Between 1870 and 1900, about 300,000 pounds are sold. This probably changed the muskie from a common fish to a scarce one.
It is now considered to be solely a game fish. But most fishermen want a trophy for the den, not the table.
Speaking of trophies, the sources I have say that the record muskellunge was caught in Wisconsin. It weighed 69 pounds, 11 oz. and was 63.5 inches in length.
The Ontario record came from Eagle Lake, and at 59 inches long and 61 pounds, nine oz., it was also some big fish.
The muskellunge, or Maskinonge (Esox masquinongy), is the most coveted trophy fish in Northern Ontario. We are lucky to have it.
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