Esox masquinongy Mitchill, 1824

member of the Pike Family (Esocidae)

St. Louis River, St. Louis County, Minnesota 18 September 1997

photo by Konrad P. Schmidt

Red River, Pembina, North Dakata 20 June 1995

MN DNR photo














What's In a Name?
Muskellunge: probably derived from "maskinonge" (fairly close to original Ojibwa word) and "lunge" (taken from Native American name for lake trout)

Esox (Ee´-socks) on old name for the pike in Europe
masquinongy (mass-kwim-on´-gee) in Cree mashk means deformed and Kinonge means pike


    Where Do They Live?
In Minnesota, the muskellunge is native to lake and rivers in the Rainy and upper Mississippi river drainages, and the lower Mississippi River south to Lake Pepin. They are especially well known from Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Leech Lake, Cass Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, and some of the smaller lakes near Park Rapids and Grand Rapids. They have been planted in many lakes and some rivers all over the state. Muskellunge normally live in lakes and slow-moving rivers with clear water and numerous underwater weed beds. They prefer cool water where temperatures stay below 26° C (80 °F), but they can endure temperatures as high as 32° C (90° F) for a limited time. Muskies most often reside in water less than 4.5 m (15 ft) deep.


How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?
The great and elusive musky is often referred as the, "aristocrat of Minnesota's trophy fishes." It is the largest member of the pike family and can grow to incredible sizes. Females grow faster and bigger than males do. Growth rates depend on the amount of available food, the size of the body of water, and the summertime water temperature. Lunker muskies grow to 114-127 cm (45-50 in) long and weigh 15.9-22.7 kg (35-50 lbs). The official Minnesota record, caught in Lake Winnibigoshish is a whopping 24.5-kg (54 lbs), but one was taken from Lake of the Woods in 1931 that weighed 25.7 kg (56.5 lbs). The world angling record is 31.8 kg (69 lbs 15 oz), caught in the St. Lawrence River. It is hard to age musky after they reach 8-10 years old. So, we aren't sure how long they live! One musky from Canada was estimated to be 30 years old.


What Do They Eat?
Like the northern pike, the musky is definitely a piscivore (fish-eater). Sometimes it lies in wait in weeds and lunges with amazing speed at its helpless prey. Other times it fins itself along slowly until it is near enough to make the lunge. Either way, the prey fish becomes lunch. Of course, larval muskies begin by eating waterfleas and copepods, but at about 50 mm (2 in) long, they add small fish to their diet. As do large northerns, adult muskies supplement their fish dinners with the occasional duck or muskrat.

"Cool Fact": It takes 2.3-3.2 kg (5-7 lbs) of live fish to produce 0.5 kg (1 lb) of musky


What Eats Them?
Because northerns spawn at least 2 weeks before muskies and often in the same places, many larval musky get consumed by young northerns. Newly hatched and larval muskies also are preyed upon by predaceous diving beetles and giant water bugs. Probably the biggest consumers of young musky are bigger young musky. Because of their habit of lying still at the water's surface young muskies sometimes are taken by kingfishers and herons. As adults, musky have nothing to fear, excluding anglers looking for the prized trophy fish.


How Do They Reproduce?
The musky spawning season is in the spring (April or May) about 2 weeks or more later than the northern pike season. As do northerns, musky move up small streams or into flooded shallows around lake margins to spawn. They choose heavy vegetated sites in water 38-50 cm (15-20 in) deep. Pairs of musky swimming side by side spawn haphazardly over the vegetation, to which the fertilized eggs attach. Spawning normally goes on for about a week before the fish return to the deeper water leaving the eggs and soon-to-be young musky to fend for themselves. A female can lay 10,000-225,000 eggs, depending on her size and health.

The eggs hatch in 8-14 days. As with the northerns, newly hatched muskies attach themselves to the vegetation using the adhesive organ on their heads. Here they develop their mouths and fins over another 1-2 weeks before they swim free and begin to feed.


Conservation and Management
The so-called "aristocrat of trophy fishes" is the largest sport fish in Minnesota. It is called the "aristocrat" because of its huge size and because it is very difficult to catch a musky. Many anglers try, but few succeed. Most musky anglers never land their trophy. That is the great appeal.




Permission is granted for the non-commercial educational or scientific use of the text and images on this Web document. Please credit the author or authors listed below.

Photographs by Konrad P. Schmidt
Text by Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic Program

This page developed with funds from the
MinnAqua Program (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fisheries)
and the
Sport Fish Restoration Program (Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior)

Maintained by Jay T. Hatch
General College and James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul

Last updated 23 October 2002