Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) - Wiki
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[Photo] Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy). Date May 04 2004. Author Engbretson, Eric / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Muskellunge or muskie or musky (Esox masquinongy) are large, relatively rare freshwater fish of North America. They are the largest member of the pike family, Esocidae. The name muskellunge comes from the Ojibwe word maashkinoozhe, meaning "ugly pike," by way of French masque allong?? (modified from the Ojibwe word by folk etymology), "long mask."
Muskellunge are called various names, such as, Ohio Muskellunge, Barred Muskellunge, Ohio River Pike, Allegheny River Pike, Jack Pike, Unspotted Muskellunge, Wisconsin Muskellunge and Barred Muskellunge.
Muskellunge are found in northern Wisconsin lakes, northern Minnesota, and the Great Lakes region north to Canada, the St. Lawrence River, Hudson Bay, and in the Upper Mississippi Valley and northward, although the species extends as far south as Chattanooga, TN in the lower Tennessee River Valley. They prefer cold, clear lakes and large rivers, where they lurk among the weeds rocks and other structural objects, to rest. The fish forms 2 home ranges, a shallow summer range and a deep summer range, the shallow range is much smaller than the deep range. A musky will continually move in the ranges searching for food and the correct water temperature.
They closely resemble the Northern pike and pickerels in both appearance and behavior; all are members of the Esocidae family. Like pike or pickerel, their bodies are elongated with flat heads and dorsal, pelvic and anal fins set far back of the head, which is the classic lie-in-wait or ambush predator body plan. Growing to lengths of 71???183 centimetres (2???6 feet) and weights of over 30 kilograms (66 pounds), muskellunge are a light silver, brown or green with dark vertical markings which tend to break up into spots. In some cases markings may be absent altogether, especially in turbid habitats. This is in contrast to northern pike which have dark bodies with light markings. A sure way of distinguishing the two similar species is by counting the sensory pores of the lower jaw. A muskie will have seven or more, the northern pike never has more than six. The lobes of the tail fin in muskellunge also come to a sharper point than those of northern pike. Muskies have no scales on the lower half of their gill cover.
Muskies prey upon anything small enough to fit in their mouths, including other fish, crayfish and frogs, to ducklings, snakes, muskrats and other small mammals. Their bill-shaped mouths are large with many sharp teeth. Muskies engulf their prey head-first, sometimes in a single gulp. Although the animals are capable of swallowing something up to 30 percent of their total length, selection must be made carefully. Muskellunge are sometimes found dead with their last meal lodged in their throats. Large Muskies have been known to eat fully grown ducks.
Anglers seek mature muskies as coveted trophies or simply for a good fight. Their linear speed is had at the expense of maneuverability. While not the marathon runners of the ichthyological world, muskellunge do have a good deal more endurance than their closest relative, the Northern Pike. They are known by anglers for long, powerful runs, and stunning aerial acrobatics. A challenging fish to catch, the muskie has been called "the fish of 10,000 casts". Anglers most often use lures of conventional configurations, but extremely large size, to fish for muskie. The average lure used to catch Muskie is 8-12 inches (20-30 centimeters) in length. Larger lures can also be used to catch large muskies, and many of these types of lures can range from 14-26 inches (35-66 centimeters) in length.
Muskellunge have been known to form small schools in all lakes. They spawn in mid to late spring, somewhat later than northern pike. Muskies seek shallow vegetated spawning grounds, the males arriving first. Spawning takes place at night and may last from five to ten days. The eggs sink and adhere to plants where they are abandoned by the adults. Eggs which are not eaten by fish, insects or crayfish hatch within two weeks. The fry live on yolk until their mouths develop, at which time they begin to feed on copepods and other planktonic animals. They soon begin to predate other fish, reaching a length of 30.5 cm (12 inches) by November.
Reaching sexual maturity at 3???5 years, muskie may live to approximately 30 years. Females grow faster and live longer than males, and thus reach greater lengths and weights. While muskies along the northern portion of the range may take 7-11 years to reach 40 inches (101 centimeters) of length, the fish in the southern portion of their range may grow to this size in as little as 5 years. Based on where the genetic strain is originally found their genetic potential can vary greatly. The ShoePac strain reaches smaller lengths and weights than the Leech Lake Strain (both stocked through out the mid-west). The Northern musky reach larger sizes due to a "burn out" in the southern fish.
Their predators are few. Birds of prey and humans are predators of adults, but young are hunted by northern pike fingerlings (which have a head start due to their earlier spawning), bass and sunfish. Their low resilience and slow rate of reproduction have caused many governments to institute breeding programs to maintain populations. Anglers are encouraged to practice catch, photo and release when after muskellunge.
While very ferocious predators, muskellunge do not live up to many of the myths that surround them. In general, most stories one hears about a muskie "attack" are either folk legends or hyperbole. Muskies have been known to attempt to strike at mammals and birds on the shoreline, but this is a very rare occurrence, although they will not hesitate to take a rodent, or duckling swimming above them.
Subspecies and hybrids
Though interbreeding with other pike species makes exact classification difficult, there are three recognized subspecies of muskellunge. For more information on the various subspecies, please see the Becker's text.
Great Lakes (spotted) Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy masquinongy)
The most common variety in the Great Lakes basin and surrounding area. The spots on the body of the Great Lakes Musky seem to form oblique rows.
Chautauqua Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy ohioensis)
A subspecies present in the Ohio River system; Chautauqua Lake; Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River.
Clear/barred Musky (Esox masquinongy immaculatus)
The most common variation of muskellunge found in the inland lakes of Wisconsin, Minnesota, northwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.
Tiger Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy X Esox lucius)
Because of their shared preferences, muskellunge and northern pike often occur in the same body of water, leading to incidents of interbreeding. A cross-breed of the Muskellunge found in the lakes of the Midwest, the Tiger Muskellunge is hybrid of the Great Lakes Muskellunge and the Northern Pike. The offspring of these rare couplings are sterile, with the exception of a few large females. Most specimens are introduced via stocking programs for the benefit of sport fishermen. These Tiger Muskies reach a smaller size than Muskies but will grow faster than either parent. They are smaller than purebred muskies but share their coloration. However, tiger muskies have tails similar to northern pike. The body is apt to be more or less silvery, without spots, but with indistinct crossbands.
Inspired hard rock Canadian recording artists of the same name "Muskellunge".
Mascot of Muskingum College in New Concord Ohio.
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