The muskellunge (also called a muskie) is the uncommon but highly sought cousin of the northern pike. Its large size and ferocity when it finally decides to take a lure attracts passionate anglers.
The top aquatic predator in Minnesota, muskies lie in wait amid in weed beds to ambush fish, along with the occasional frog or duckling. Because some muskellunge reach very large size they may eat even larger prey, including muskrats. Most research has shown that muskies tend to utilize the most abundant prey species available in a body of water and that walleyes are not an important food for them.
Muskies are Minnesota natives and still patrol the Mississippi River. Their numbers are likely higher today, due to supplemental stocking by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
- Muskies can breed with northern pike, producing a sterile hybrid called a tiger muskie. The tiger muskie has the coloration of a muskie and the rounded tail of the northern pike. The Minnesota DNR stocks it in heavily fished Twin Cities lakes. They grow faster and larger than northern pike, are less finicky than muskies, and endure higher water temperatures than either species.
- No one know where the name muskellunge came from. Possibly, it is a combination of French masque (face) and allonge (long) or the Ojibwe word, maashkinoozhe.
Key ID Features: Muskellunge are missile-shaped predators with long flat heads and tooth-filled jaws. They can be distinguished from the similar (but generally smaller) northern pike by the shape of the tail and coloration. Muskies have pointed lobes on their forked tails (Pike have rounded lobes) and they are covered with dark marks on a light background (pike have light marks on a dark background). They average 30-42 inches in length, ,but can be much larger.
Present in Park: Muskellunge are not common fish anywhere, but they are found within the park, especially in the northern suburbs and in the vicinity of the St. Croix/Mississippi confluence.
Habitat: Large rivers with slow currents and deep pools and large clear lakes with extensive weed beds.
MN Status: Sport fish
For Further Reading
- Dickson, Tom. 2008. The Great Minnesota Fish Book. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2017. “Muskellunge.” Available from http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish/muskellunge/index.html