The largest of the pikes, the muskellunge is long and slender, with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. This species differs from other members of the pike family in having both the gill cover and cheek scaled only on their upper halves, and in having a row of 6 to 9 pores along each side of the lower jaw. The color pattern on body consists of dark spots or bars on a light background. Usually there are 17 to 19 slender bones (branchiostegal rays) in the membranes along the lower edge of the gill cover, and 130 to 157 scales in the lateral line (the series of sensory pores that form a faint line along both sides of a fish's sides).
Total length (in Missouri): commonly 36 to 45 inches; up to 48 inches.
Muskellunge are not native to Missouri but have been stocked into selected lakes since 1966. Muskies are annually released into Pomme de Terre Lake, Hazel Creek Lake, Fellows Lake, and Lake 35 at Busch Conservation Area. Henry Sever Lake is stocked when surplus muskies are available.
Habitat and Conservation
Muskies prefer clear water and aquatic vegetation. However, since aquatic vegetation is uncommon in most Missouri lakes, they use different areas. They inhabit shorelines, drop-offs, submerged points and islands, docks, brush piles, and standing timber. They can also be found cruising open water, usually looking for schools of gizzard shad. Since they are a cool-water fish, they tend to be deeper during the summer.
Young muskies eat minnows, small gizzard shad, and other small fish. Adult muskies prefer gizzard shad and common carp but will also eat suckers and buffalo.
There is no evidence that muskellunge successfully spawn in Missouri. Their localized populations are maintained by annual stocking.
Spawning usually occurs in early spring when the water temperature is about 50 degrees (early April in Missouri). Muskie fry do not survive in Missouri lakes because largemouth bass and other predators eat the young fish. Muskies are stocked annually in Missouri to maintain populations. Stocking numbers are very low (at most one muskie per acre per year) because they are top predators and managers do not want them to reduce the numbers of other game fish.
Muskellunge are a true trophy fish and are prized by many anglers. This is because they can become very large, strike viciously, and put up a hard fight. Another interesting habit of muskellunge is their tendency to follow lures to the boat, oftentimes hitting the lure with only a foot of line out.
Although not native to the state of Missouri, muskies are a top predator, since they can consume large prey.