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
MUSKELLUNGE PIKE AND PICKEREL
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.
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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Update: June 2012