Characteristics - olive to dark gray above, sides lighter with dark spots or bars; upper 1/2 of cheeks and opercle lightly scaled, lower 1/2 of both scaleless.
Distribution -Line lake (Duck Mountains but now defunct - we're hoping they'll restock it!) Other possible locations exist..
Foods - mostly fish.
Expert's Tip - the musky has been called the fish of 10,000 casts, be patient and use BIG lures.
Other names -- musky, muskie,
The muskellunge differs from other pikes in having the upper half of the cheeks and opercles lightly scaled and the lower portion of these parts scaleless. The lower jaw has a row of 6 to 9 pores along each side. There are l6 to l9 branchiostegal rays, usually 19 rays in the dorsal fin, and l47 to l55 cycloid scales along the lateral line. The color of muskellunge varies considerably. It is usually olive to dark gray with dark over markings on the sides. When present, these markings will consist of dark spots or bars on a light background.
Muskellunge are strictly carnivorous. They feed primarily on other fishes such as perch, suckers and shiners. The first food of young muskellunge is zooplankton, but after a few days of life fish are consumed. It also feeds extensively on frogs, crayfish and large water insects and has been known to devour ducklings, shore birds and even young aquatic mammals. An aggressive feeder, large musky have been reported attacking human appendages dangled in the water, but these incidents are indeed rare and unusual, and perhaps more lore than factual.
Muskellunge spawn in early spring, several weeks later than northern pike. In Canada they ordinarily spawn in tributary streams and shallow lake channels rather than in flooded marshes and swamps preferred by northern pike. Like all members of the pike family, they simply scatter their eggs unattended over the bottom. The eggs are small, averaging about 75,000 to the quart. Incubation is completed in l2 to l5 days in water from 50 to 55 degrees F. A female -- 36 to 46 inches in length -- produces up to l64,000 eggs. The average range is from about 20,000 to l65,000 although female fish weighing 40 pounds have been known to produce as many as 225,000 eggs. Contrary to popular belief, these fish are not long-lived and usually die before reaching age l2. A recent age and growth study for musky conducted on a northern US lake showed that growth averaged l2.8 inches at age l, 35.7 inches at age 5, and 46.0 inches at age 11.
Some fishermen have termed musky the fish of l,000 casts. Musky are world famous for their difficulty to hook and successfully land. Adjectives such as "exciting" and "unbelievable" are often used to describe the musky experience. Actually many bodies of water in Manitoba are suitable for musky but the cost of a stocking program and general angler interest do not warrant a large scale stocking program. At present only one fishery appears to be a musky fishery (located in the Duck mountains--- Line lake is the unique musky fishery in the Province).
The fishery, therefore, will remain very limited in our province, but as it is present it will continue to capture the very heart and soul of those fishermen purist looking for a truly memorable fishing experience. Some reports of musky have come from other intrepid anglers who have gone up the Winnipeg river past Point du bois --- but these reports will remain obscure as any good musky man would never let us know if these reports were really true. Musky are present in good numbers on the Ontario side of the Winnipeg river, however, water control structure seem to have limited their movement in any great numbers on the Manitoba side of the border.... maybe this is good information for those few who do fish these isolated waters.. In years past Manitoba's largest musky was caught in Audy lake-- a small lake on the southern fringe of Riding mountain National park. Stocking has been discontinued due to a National park policy which mitigates against the introduction of exotics to a natural eco-system. Of course, Buffalo bay on Lake of The Woods does present the "possibility" of a musky but as such that all it presents. No catches have been reported from this area in years
When & Where to Fish
Like all species of fish certain periods of the year are more productive than others for fishing. The basis for this fact is that fish, particularly the predatory species, are more active during different seasons, and increased activity usually improves fishing success. Experience has shown that muskie and tiger musky are most likely caught when the water temperature nears60- 70 degrees F. In Manitoba this usually coincides with late June or early July and again in late September or early October.
The best time of the day to fish, when musky are most active, is in the early morning between daybreak and 1 1/2 hours after sunrise and in the late evening between one hour before sunset and darkness. Keep in mind that these time periods are usually the most productive. This is not to say that musky can not be caught in other periods of the year or hours of the day. If for some reason you can not fish during the best periods but still want to catch a trophy musky -- go fishing.
Now that the lake and time of year to go muskie hunting has been selected, the next consideration is to determine what locations in the lake are most likely to contain fish. Muskie are not scattered at random in a lake, and only the best habitats will contain the fish. In fact, poor habitat probably contains no muskie at all. Prior to arriving to fish, the best suggestion is to obtain a topographic map which will locate water depths and indicate the location of different types of bottom structure. Study the map, looking especially for 8 to 20 foot contours near drop-offs. This depth is most likely to have submergent vegetation beds, particularly in the natural lakes. Most muskie fishermen theorize that the fish spend much of their time in deep water but move into shallow, weedy areas to forage. Thus, the chances of catching a muskie are greatest.
If possible, before you wet a line, thoroughly scout the lake with a depth finder to sound out sites that you have targeted on the map as most promising. Reconnaissance of a lake prior to fishing will also reveal at what depth the weedline occurs, and you will want to spend most of your time fishing along the vegetation beds, especially in natural lakes. This activity will also allow you to look for irregular points of vegetation that extend out into the lake. Pay particular attention to places where the weeds come within 5 or 6 feet of the water surface. If you locate a large weed-free hole within the mass of vegetation -- mark it for fishing. All of these sites are excellent places to begin your quest for a trophy muskie.
There are two methods most often used to fish for muskie -- trolling and casting. Among the muskie fishing fraternity there seems to be no clear cut consensus of opinion as to which method may be superior. Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages. The best recommendation is probably to do what you feel most confident and comfortable with -- or use both.
While a muskie fisherman can cover much more area and put the lure near more fish by trolling, the precision of lure or bait presentation is considerably less with this method. Muskies follow most lures before they strike, and it is nearly impossible to see what follows and take enticing actions while trolling. Fish that are following a lure that has been cast are easily detected, and once located, they can be fished for in subsequent trips as well.
The main disadvantage of casting for muskie mainly is that it is hard work and tiring; muskie have been called the fish of ten thousand casts. Anyone that has fished for these trophies will quickly verify that truer words were never uttered.
Fishing tackle and equipment used for muskie are some of the most specialized available for angling, mostly because of the size of this noble beast. Whether you troll or cast, the rod and reel that most muskie fishermen prefer is a heavy duty graphite model bait-casting rod, from 5 to 5 1/2 feet in length, fitted with a matched and balanced reel that has a star-drag brake. Graphite material is preferred over others because it is lighter in weight, a factor which causes less fatigue, and it is far more sensitive than other types of rods. If the cost is a concern, fiberglass is less expensive and will, of course, catch muskie. One of the better suggestions is to purchase a high quality reel -- muskies are fierce fighters and have been known to completely strip the gears of poorly made reels before getting away. The reel should have a retrieve ratio of at least 5:1, because the lure is usually retrieved as fast as the angler can crank.
Most muskie enthusiasts fill their reel with monofilament or superlines of 20 to 40 pound-test. Color does not seem to be important. The line must be fitted with a solid steel leader with a sure-lock clasp. Leader length is an individual choice; some fishermen use 6-inch leaders while others swear by 18-inch leaders. A steel leader is essential because both muskie and tiger muskie have razor sharp teeth and many sharp bones around their mouth and jaws that can cut or fray the line while fighting.
Lures for muskie fishing fall into three basic types -- crank-baits, spinner-baits and jerk-baits. There are many different models and colors available in most tackle shops and mail order houses that specialize in fishing equipment.
Crank-baits come in a wide variety, but all are fitted with a metal or plastic lip-spoon that causes them to dive to a depth of 10 or 12 feet during the retrieve. The lures are large, 7 to 10 inches in length, and weigh up to 2 1/2 ounces. Lure color is important, but no color is effective all the time. It is very important for an angler to know what the fish are consuming for forage and then use a lure color that resembles that prey.
Crank-baits are astonishingly easy for a novice muskie fisherman to learn proper presentation. They are equally effective for fishing by either trolling or casting. The method used in trolling is simply to locate the lure about 100 feet behind the boat at a speed of about 7 or 8 miles per hour, which will place the lure at about its maximum depth. Some fishermen adhere closely to the philosophy that you can troll too slowly for muskie -- but not too fast. Using a depth finder while trolling has definite advantages for locating submerged weed lines and then trolling just along the outside edge.
Crank-baits are equally simple lures to use for casting. The best technique is to find a likely spot, let the boat drift with the prevailing wind or move it slowly with an electric trolling motor, and cast the lure as far as possible using a steady retrieve, reeling as fast as you can.
One common trick of muskie anglers is at the end of a retrieve: before the lure is removed from the water, perform a "figure 8" motion with about 3 to 4 feet of line between the lure and the rod tip. Execute this motion at the end of all casts or trolling runs. Often muskies are caught right beside the boat after following the lure and striking only when there is a sudden change in the speed or direction of the lure.
Spinner-baits consist of a metal spinner, either in a single or tandem configuration, followed by a series of weights that are attached to either one or two treble hooks that are partially hidden with hair or soft plastic body dressings. They come in many colors and patterns.
The spinner acts as a fish attractor and is usually highly polished or finished in a fluorescent paint. The hook-hair portion of the lure serves as the body, and they are dyed in dull colors that simulate natural food items. Some fishermen attach soft plastic body dressings to spinner baits which add color and increase the action of the lure.
Spinner-baits are good lures for both trolling and casting. The method used for fishing with these lures is similar to those with crank-baits, except spinner-baits sink and the retrieve must be delayed for enough time to allow the lure to achieve the correct fishing depth. First-time muskie fishermen should make crank-baits and spinners their lures of choice. These lures are easy to use because a high degree of manual skill is not required to make the proper presentation to a fish.
Jerk-baits are constructed of wood and imitate a bait-fish that has been injured and is distressed. The name for them is derived from the method used in the retrieve. The lure floats on the surface until it is retrieved; then it dives sharply and darts side-to-side. Some jerk-baits have a metal tail that can be adjusted by bending it to change the action. Otherwise it is the fisherman that must supply a great deal of the erratic action. Jerk-baits come in a variety of colors and styles, but no pattern is superior at all times.
Since these lures do not dive as deeply as crank-baits, they are best for fishing shallow water, especially over submerged vegetation or other structures that are near the surface. They are usually fished in 6 to 8 feet of depth. These lures are used only by casting. A cast is made as far as possible, while the retrieve is made in a rapid fashion, jerking the lure in a zig-zag motion. It is a very physical and tiring way to fish and not one for a novice.
In some localities, in the traditional northern muskie range, live bait, particularly large suckers, are used for muskie fishing.
Catch & Release
Muskie are not, nor will they ever be, an abundant game fish in this province. Avid muskie fishermen, those individuals that fish regularly for these trophies, realize this fact. They are also very aware that true trophy fish, those exceeding 30 pounds in size, are even more rare. For this reason most muskie fishermen are staunch advocates of a fish-for-fun philosophy and release unharmed the fish that they catch, except for exceptionally large specimens.