PFBC Musky Program

An inside look at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Muskellunge (Musky) program. This video outlines the process from collecting wild brood stock, to spawning and stocking Pennsylvania's largest species of game fish.

Species Overview from the PFBC
A voracious predator, the Muskellunge is one of Pennsylvania’s largest and fastest-growing fish, with the state record standing at over 54 pounds. The Muskellunge’s original North American range was the St. Lawrence River, throughout the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi River basin, but it has been widely propagated and stocked elsewhere for sport fishing. In Pennsylvania, Muskies were originally restricted to the northwest region, the Lake Erie and Ohio River watersheds, especially in the large glacier-formed lakes, like Conneaut Lake in Crawford County and Presque Isle Bay in Lake Erie. The species name “masquinongy” comes from an Ojibwa (Chippewa) name for the fish–“mas,” meaning “ugly,” and “kinononge,” meaning “fish.

The Musky is streamlined with a dorsal and anal fin that are set so far back toward the tail that the fish is almost missile-shaped. Its flat, ducklike snout has many strong, sharp teeth. The Musky has no scales on the lower half of its cheek and the lower half of its gill cover, which helps to distinguish it from the Northern Pike. Also, the Musky has six to nine pores, tiny sensory openings, beneath each side of its jaw; the Northern Pike has five or fewer pores. Muskies vary in the color and the intensity of their markings. The base color on the back and sides is light greenish gray or yellow-green to olive-brown, the sides shading lighter. The flanks have more or less vertical rows of darker spotting, or indistinct bars. The striping is more pronounced in younger fish. In older fish it may fade, giving the fish a uniform color. The Musky’s belly is white. Its fins are greenish cream to brownish orange, with dark blotches. There is no dark teardrop mark below the eye. Instead, a black horizontal streak runs through the eye. A Musky of 20 to 35 pounds is not unusual, and they may grow over four feet long.

Muskies are coolwater fish, found in clear natural lakes, reservoirs and rivers. They frequent quiet backwaters and slow pools that have plenty of aquatic weed growth, which the Musky uses for cover and which attracts its prey. Muskies are usually found in fairly shallow water, 15 feet or less, but they have been caught 40 or 50 feet deep. They also associate with rocky or boulder-strewn shoals. Muskies use a restricted home range, rarely moving more than two miles from their summer feeding areas, with the large ones often remaining in one pool.

Life Story
Muskellunge are solitary, territorial predators. They are very aggressive and will even attack and eat one another. Their main diet is fish, but they will take what opportunity gives them, including snakes, frogs, muskrats, mice and waterbirds.

Muskies spawn in the spring, after the Northern Pike, when water temperatures are in the high 50s to high 60s. They spawn at night in shallow water, often just six to 12 inches deep. Relatively long-distance spawning migrations have been documented because adults tend to return to the same spawning locations each year. As the male and female swim over the spawning site, which usually features underwater stumps and logs on a muck bottom, the eggs are released to fall as they will. Female Muskies 25 to 53 inches long produce 22,000 to 180,000 eggs. The adhesive eggs hatch in eight to 14 days, and as is usual for the pike family, the fry attach themselves to sunken debris as they absorb their egg sacs.

Mortality of fry is high, because fish eat the vulnerable Musky young. When Muskies are about four days old, they turn the tables, and begin eating fish. On that diet they can grow to one foot long in only four months. Muskies are sexually mature at about three years old and a little over 20 inches long. Females grow faster than males, and all Muskies grow best in the early summer and fall, when water temperatures reach about 68 degrees.

Muskies naturally hybridize with Northern Pike, producing the “tiger musky” (above). Tiger muskies are also bred artificially in fish hatcheries and stocked for sport. The usual age of a Musky that is caught is three to six years, but some have reached nearly 20 years old.
I'm rather impressed...the PFBC actually talked about proper catch and release techniques. They need to do more of this with all species of fish. The larger 1 year old's being stocked definitely have a greater chance of survival from being eaten by other fish but I wonder how many end up eaten by mergansers, herons, eagles, etc? I caught a lot of these little 1 year old guys this past year while smallmouth bass fishing.