Esox masquinongy x Esox lucius
(A.K.A. - Muskie)
Key Distinguishing Markings:
- In general, identifying the muskellunge from the hybrid is fairly easy, though it can be more difficult with some individuals.
- The tiger muskie is named for the prominent light-colored, branching bars on a dark blue-green background; some of the light-colored pattern continues across the back.
- Muskellunge, on the other hand, have much less prominent, non-branching, dark bars on an olive to tan background with no pattern across the back.
- Chin pores, located on the right and left bottom surface of the lower jaw, will usually number 6 or 7, up to 10, per side on muskellunge.
- Chin pores on tiger muskie number 5 or 6 per side.
- The muskellunge, or muskie as it more commonly called, is one of the largest freshwater game fish in North America.
- Muskies are not native to Maryland and currently occur only in the Washington County portion of the Potomac River. The original source of these muskies remains unclear.
- Hybrid tiger muskie have been stocked into a number of impoundments and the upper Potomac River.
- Muskellunge/Tiger muskie use a variety of habitats seasonally from deep open water to shallow cover such as weeds and fallen trees. In rivers, they usually occupy the deeper pools with reduced current.
Muskie (muskellunge or hybrid)
- The muskellunge population was expanding coincidentally with our tiger muskie program and many of the adult muskellunge were misidentified as hybrids.
- Though an occasional adult muskie was observed during the late '80s, the first documentation of natural reproduction occurred in 1996, when the picture became clearer after several young-of-year were collected and natural reproduction was documented.
- Several individuals from the 2001 yearclass were verified as pure-strain muskie by DNA analysis, performed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
- Muskellunge are opportunistic ambush predators, feeding primarily on other fish.
- Unlike sharks, muskie's teeth do not mesh to take bites, but are simply to hold their prey, which they must swallow whole.
- The literature indicates that muskellunge prefer to prey upon large, soft-finned, fusiform (cylinder shaped) species such as suckers, fallfish, minnows, and small carp. These forage fish are very abundant in the Potomac.
- Due to their size and their ability to prey on fish up to forty-five percent of their own length, muskies occupy a unique niche in the river.
- Muskellunge initiate spawning during April or May when water temperatures exceed 50°F for several consecutive days. Tiger muskie are sterile hybrids and do not reproduce.
- Spawning takes place near aquatic vegetation, debris, and leaf litter over a period of a few days.
- The eggs are broadcast over a fairly large area and settle to the bottom.
- No parental care is given.
- Surviving eggs will hatch in twelve to fifteen days.
- At first, muskies grow very rapidly reaching approximately twelve inches by the end of their first growing season, twenty-four inches by the end of the second, and thirty inches by the end of their third.
- In the Potomac River, muskies reach the minimum length limit of thirty-six inches during their fifth or sixth season.
- Females grow faster and live longer than males; the maximum lifespan is about twenty-five to thirty years, though it is usually much shorter.
- Tackle for muskie needs to be stouter than tackle used for bass and walleye.
- A medium-heavy muskie-action casting rod with twenty pound test monofilament or braided line works well.
- A hard monofilament or wire leader is necessary to prevent the line being cut by their teeth.
- Large crankbaits imitating suckers and fallfish and bucktail spinners are the most popular lures for muskie.
- Anglers not familiar with handling these fish may want to stick with single-hook lures such as spinnerbaits to start with.
- Due to their limited numbers and value as a trophy sport fish, most muskie anglers release their catch to fight again.
- Several tools are needed to make releasing muskies safer for both the fish and the fishermen. Foremost is a large needle-nose pliers or a hook-out (pistol grip pliers) for removing hooks while keeping fingers a safe distance away from their teeth. For more information or a handout of release procedures and tips, contact the Lewistown Work Center at 301-898-9724 or John Mullican.
- For current recreational size and creel limits, see Maryland's updated regulation page.
- The current State Record muskellunge weighed 28 pounds, .25 oz. and the current State Record tiger muskie weighed 29 pounds, 4.75 oz. Both records were caught from the Potomac River.
Family: Esocidae (Pikes)
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
For more information on tiger muskie and their management, please contact John Mullican
Illustration courtesy NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research