Historically, the muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) was abundant in the bays and tributaries of Lake Erie and in many streams in the Ohio River drainage. Excellent muskellunge fisheries are maintained in the state through stocking since reproduction is rare in Ohio reservoirs.
Muskellunge, or muskies, are long, slender fish with a large duckbill shaped mouth and needle sharp teeth. The dorsal fin is soft and located near the tail. In contrast to Northern pike and both species of pickerel, only the upper half of the cheek and ear flap, or opercle, have scales. They have dark spots or wavy lines on their sides on a light background. Northern pike are the opposite with a dark background color and lighter colored spots. Both Northern pike and muskellunge have spots on their fins in contrast to both grass and chain pickerel which have no markings on their fins. Muskellunge from the great lakes drainage are considered to be a separate subspecies from those found in the Ohio River drainage. The Great Lakes Muskellunge tends to have more distinct spots that extend further up their body from their tail. Ohio Muskellunge have less spots and scales extending further down the sides of their cheeks and gill covers. They are members of the Esocidae (pikes) family. Adult males are typically 22-39 inches long and weigh 3-20 pounds, while adult females are usually 22-50 inches long and weigh 3-40 pounds.
Muskellunge usually spawn in April and early May when water temperatures are in the low to mid-50s. Females will lay as many as 200,000 eggs on shallow substrates. After hatching, young muskellunge feed on microscopic animals until they are large enough to switch over to feeding on fish. Limited natural reproduction occurs in Lake Erie and the Ohio River and their tributaries. This limited reproduction maintains a few local natural populations.
Habitat and Behavior
Prime muskellunge habitat is found in heavily vegetated lakes with lots of tree stumps and bays. Prime stream muskellunge habitat is generally considered to be long pools (at least 0.2 miles in length) with a minimum depth of at least three to four feet and an abundance of submerged woody structure. The muskellunge is native to Ohio and is found in both the Ohio River and Lake Erie drainage basins. Here it feeds primarily on soft-rayed fish such as suckers and gizzard shad.