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Muskellunge Food

Muskies prey upon anything that fits in the mouth. Most of the diet consists of fish but it also includes crayfish, frogs, ducklings, snakes, muskrats, mice and other small mammals. The mouth is large with many large and hair-like teeth. Muskies will attempt to take their prey head-first, sometimes in a single gulp. They will take prey items that are up to 30% of their total length. In the spring, they tend to prefer smaller bait as their metabolism is slower and large bait in fall prior to winter.

Muskies prey upon anything that fits in the mouth. Most of the diet consists of fish but it also includes crayfish, frogs, ducklings, snakes, muskrats, mice and other small mammals. The mouth is large with many large and hair-like teeth. Muskies will attempt to take their prey head-first, sometimes in a single gulp. They will take prey items that are up to 30% of their total length. In the spring, they tend to prefer smaller bait as their metabolism is slower and large bait in fall prior to winter.

Behavior

Muskellunge are sometimes gregarious, forming small schools. They spawn in mid to late spring, somewhat later than northern pike, over shallow, vegetated areas. The males arrive first and attempt to establish dominance over a territory. Spawning may last from five to ten days and occurs mainly at night. The zygotes are negatively buoyant and slightly adhesive; they adhere to plants and are then abandoned by the adults. Those embryos which are not eaten by fish, insects or crayfish hatch within two weeks. The larvae live on yolk until the mouth is fully developed, at which time they begin to feed on copepods and other zooplankton. They soon begin to prey upon fish. Juveniles will generally attain a length of 30 cm (12 inches) by November 7th of the first year.

Predators

Adult muskellunge have few predators other than large birds of prey and anglers, but juveniles are consumed by other muskies, northern pike, bass and sunfish. The musky's low reproductive rate and slow growth make populations highly vulnerable to overfishing. This has prompted some jurisdictions to institute artificial propagation programs in an attempt to maintain otherwise unsustainably high rates of angling effort and habitat destruction.

Anglers are strongly encouraged to practice catch and release when fishing for muskellunge.

Anglers seek large muskies as trophies or for sport. Most serious musky anglers are catch-and release fishermen. The fish attain impressive swimming speeds but are not particularly maneuverable. The highest speed runs are usually fairly short, but can be quite intense. Muskies are known for their strength and for their tendency to leap from the water in stunning acrobatic displays. A challenging fish to catch, the muskie has been called, "The fish of ten thousand casts". Anglers tend to use smaller lures in spring or during cold front conditions and larger lures in fall or the heat of summer. The average lure is 2030 cm (610 inches) long but longer lures of 3565 cm (1224 inches) are not uncommon in the musky angler's arsenal.

Subspecies and Hybrids

Though interbreeding with other pike species can complicate the classification of some individuals, zoologists usually recognize from zero to three subspecies of muskellunge.[1]

  • The Great Lakes (spotted) muskellunge (Esox masquinongy masquinongy) is the most common variety in the Great Lakes basin and surrounding area. The spots on the body form oblique rows.

  • The Chautauqua muskellunge (E. m. ohioensis) is known from the Ohio River system, Chautauqua Lake, Lake Ontario, and the St Lawrence River.

  • The clear or barred muskellunge (E. m. immaculatus) is most common in the inland lakes of Wisconsin, Minnesota, northwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.

    The tiger muskellunge (E. masquinongy x lucius or E. lucius x masquinongy) is a hybrid of the musky and northern pike. Hybrids are sterile although females sometimes unsuccesfully engage in spawning motions. Some hybrids are artificially produced and planted for anglers to catch. Tiger muskies tend to be smaller than non-hybrid muskies but grow faster. The body is often quite silvery and largely or entirely without spots but with indistinct longitudinal bands.

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