Muskies are the largest member of the pike family and are often the biggest predatory fish in their home waters — possibly because they eat most of the competition.
There are two types of muskies out there: Your basic muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) and the tiger muskie, which is a northern pike/muskie hybrid. The latter are sterile and are often used by fishery managers for stocking purposes.
Muskies occur naturally throughout the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada. Trophy-size muskies occur most frequently in the St. Lawrence River system, but the IGFA all-tackle record was hauled out of an inland lake near Hayward, Wisconsin.
Due to fishing pressure, muskies are stocked throughout their natural range. Their popularity as a game fish has also resulted in their being stocked in several other fisheries across North America.
Regardless of the species, muskies are going to behave similarly across all fisheries. They are aggressive ambush attackers that hide in cover and leave only to attack or follow potential prey.
Reelers often report that muskies won’t hit a cast bait until it’s close to the boat. Instead they follow it for some distance and attack once they’re satisfied. When trolling, anglers say that muskies hit baits hard and then run.
But, more often than not, you’re not going to fool a muskie. They’re naturally cautious and the big ones have been around long enough to know better.
Jake Bowles, an Ontario muskie hunter, says, “When you go muskie fishing, expect to catch nothing. It make take days, but you just have to grind it out until you figure out where they’re laying. Don’t be discouraged.”
Ontario guide Kyle Moxon, whose home waters are Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, says that trolling is his most reliable all-season tactic. But he’ll also jig and cast for muskies, as well.
“Depends on the water, the time of year, and what they’re hitting. Muskies do what they want. You just have to pick the right tool for the right day,” Moxon said.
Muskies like cover. They’ll often lie in scattered weeds or under docks waiting for prey to come by. On inland lakes and rivers, you’ll find muskies in 8 to 10 feet of water. In warmer weather, they’ll be higher in the water column and a little deeper in colder months. During warm summer months and just as winter starts closing in, muskies feed aggressively.
Muskies are opportunists and will hit anything from baitfish and frogs to crayfish, snakes, ducks, and even muskrats. This is good news and bad news for reelers. It means you can offer all sorts of presentations. But it may take a long time before you find the one that works — if you do at all.
One thing both Moxon and Bowles agree in on is the Medussa from Chaos Tackle. It’s a proven muskie agitator that can draw a hit when nothing else is working. Articulated swim baits can also tempt muskies out of their cover.
Some experts recommend removing treble hooks from lures and replacing them with barbless 5/0 or 6/0 circle hooks. The reasons for this are twofold. First, a thrashing muskie can often gain enough leverage to dislodge a treble hook. Second, circle hooks can be removed with less harm to the fish.
Scents can also seal the deal for a muskie that’s tempted by your bait but uncertain about striking. A gel scent that sticks to the lure through multiple lures or a soft plastic bait with a built-in scent can make the difference for a picky musky.
However you hook your muskie, consider releasing it after measuring its length and girth and then snapping a picture. It can take as many as 17 years for a muskie to reach 50 inches in length, and they don’t live much beyond 20 years.
So, if you want to keep catching big muskies, keep putting them back.