Fish and Aquatic Conservation

illustration of a Muskellunge


Esox masquinongy (Mitchill, 1824)

Cool Facts

Muskellunge can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour and live for as long as 30 years. The heaviest published weight for muskellunge is 31.8 kg (70 lbs.)

SIZE: Muskellunge commonly obtain lengths of around 95 cm (37.4 inches). The maximum recorded length for muskellunge is 183cm (72 inches).

RANGE: Within North America muskellunge are native to the St. Lawrence River, Great Lakes, Hudson Bay (Red River), and Mississippi River basins.

HABITAT: Muskellunge inhabit clear vegetated lakes, quiet pools, and the backwaters of creeks and small to large rivers. They have been known to prey upon ducklings, muskrats, and snakes.

DIET: Young muskellunge feed on minnows, small gizzard shad and other small fish. Adult muskellunge prefer gizzard shad and common carp but will also dine on suckers and buffalo fish.

Natural History

Muskellunge are solitary, stealthy, predators like their cousin the northern pike. Muskellunge spawn in the early spring, usually when the first ice begins to melt. Muskellunge are non‐migratory.

There is currently an ongoing discussion concerning the methodology of how muskellunge spawn. One school of thought believes that muskellunge spawn by simultaneously extruding eggs and milt. Another school of thought believes they may be some type of coupling is occurring during the spawning process. When spawning, the female muskellunge turns on her side to expose her abdomen to the male who then swims against her in a forceful movement. After the male swims up against the female, the female then pauses for a moment and rests and then deposits her eggs in the sand. This ritual is then repeated at least one additional time.


Currently, muskellunge are primarily a recreational fish species within the United States, but in the 1800’s they were also an important commercial fish species within their native range. Indigenous populations of muskellunge are protected in portions of Tennessee and Ohio. Recent declines of muskellunge in the St. Lawrence River have been attributed to viral hemorrhagic septicemia.