Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Muskellunge Pike and Pickerel
Nature Bulletin No. 376-A   April 4, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

The largest fighter of freshwater game fish in America is the Muskellunge. Even when landed, often after an hour or more of furious battling, a "musky" threshes and snaps dangerously until killed with a pistol or lead-weighted "persuader". More fishermen spend more time, with less success, trying to hook and land one of these vicious tigers of our northern waters than for any other fish. They are not much good for eating but a musky weighing from 15 to 30 pounds is big enough to make most any angler happy for a year.

There are six known species of the Pike Family and the musky is one of five found in North America. They are remarkably alike in general appearance and habits but differ greatly in size when full-grown. All are long slim fish with the head shaped like a duck's bill in front The fins have no bony spines and the back fin is located nearer the tail than on most fish. The jaws and roof of the large mouth are armed with numerous teeth, including a row of large formidable canine teeth on each side of the lower jaw. All kinds prefer to lurk in weedy waters.

They spawn in early spring, scattering thousands of eggs on the bottom of shallow bays and among vegetation but give them no further attention. Those that are not destroyed hatch into baby fish that live on microscopic animals, water fleas and small insect larvae. They prey on other water animals until attaining a length of two or three inches, when they graduate to a fish diet varied occasionally, as they grow bigger, with frogs, turtles, baby muskrats and ducklings.

Fishermen have caused much confusion by giving many local names to each of the five species of pike. The Walleyed Pike is a pike-like perch. The Northern Pike has a dozen common names, including Pickerel, Spotted Pike, Jackfish and Snake, but the commonly known Latin name is Esox lucius. Also found in northern Asia and Europe, it ranges from Alaska and Labrador south to New York, the Ohio Valley, Missouri and Nebraska. Reaching a length of two feet and a weight of three pounds in 3 or 4 years, 10 to 15 pound "northerns" are common in many waters. In Europe, a 145-pounder was taken in 1862 but a record rod-and-reel catch in the U.S. is a 46-pounder taken in New York. In parts of Canada, because they gobble so many wild ducklings, bounties are paid for pike.

The rod-and-reel record for muskies has been rising steadily. A former record was 69 lbs., 13 oz., with a length of 63 1/2 inches, but a 102- pounder was taken in Wisconsin, in a net, over 50 years ago. Muskies are often subdivided into three regional races -- the Great Lakes race, the Ohio River basin or Chautauqua race, and the "tiger musky" of Wisconsin and Minnesota which may be a natural hybrid with the northern pike. The musky has a dark green or gray back and olive or dark spots. There are no scales on the lower half of its cheeks and gill covers. The northern pike has pale elongated blotches on a background of olive or dark green. There are no scales on the lower half of the gill covers and the cheeks are fully scaled. The three smaller species of pike all have both the cheeks and the gill covers fully scaled.

The three smaller species of pike all have both the cheeks and the gill covers fully scaled.

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