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October 1, 2021

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Catching the Elusive Musky: Understanding the Seasons Better

Catching the Elusive Musky: Understanding the Seasons Better

Angling is one of the most popular hobbies in America. Surrounded by the Atlantic, Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico as well as having numerous freshwater lakes, bayous, and rivers, the country is definitely an angler’s paradise. That being said, sports fishing’s biggest prize is putting up a fight and catching the toughest fish the water has to offer. One such fish is the muskellunge or more commonly known as musky, the largest member of the pike family and a freshwater fish native to North America.

Muskellunge are very similar to the northern pike, which are regularly mistaken for each other. Their most notable differences, however, are in their coloration and differences in tail shape. Northern pike have varying shades of green skin color and white spots. Musky in general, have narrower and pointier fins.

The musky is a massive fish weighing an average of 15-70 lbs while having an average length of 24-72”. They’re ambush predators of which normal fish that anglers catch like shad and carp, are bait. They are also hard to come by as they’re slow to mature, with males taking four to five years while females take up to seven years. Undoubtedly, the muskellunge is one of the hardest and most sought-after game fish in North America. For many years, anglers have regarded the musky as a trophy fish, with anglers taking an average of 50 hours just to catch a single one. Any angler who means business will at some point try to catch the elusive musky. This is why in this article, we’re here to help you with the ins and outs of musky fishing.

Musky Fishing: Location is Key

The muskellunge is a non-migratory fish. Though taking long to fully mature, they don’t travel long distances over the course of their lives. The most important thing when it comes to musky fishing is taking into account the weather and temperature. 

Muskellunge are mostly found in the areas of St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes area, around northeastern United States bordering Canada. They are typically active in areas of high vegetation, specifically near weed beds. Though not as common, they can also be found in clearer areas. Musky are known to sunbathe in order to get warm, so anglers may find some success in shallow waters. Through hiding in thick vegetation like weeds, bullrushes, and even more solid structures like rock bars and stumps, muskellunge wait for their prey to pass by; striking quickly and swallowing them head first. These fish can consume prey that are almost ⅔ their size. Consequently, the quality of the fish, most especially their size can be attributed to its diet. Adult musky can prey on largemouth bass, walleye, sunfish and even smaller musky, making sure areas where musky reside have a diverse marine ecosystem. A popular method of catching musky is by trolling. This is usually advised in areas with weed or on its edges. Points, openings, and rocky areas are also recommended.

Wisconsin is one of the best places to catch muskellunge. Named the official state fish in 1955, the state’s lakes and rivers have been home to abundant populations of musky. As their popularity as a game fish got greater, aquaculture and stocking has led to greater populations in the southern areas of Wisconsin. In total there are 660 lakes and 48 streams in the state’s different counties that have varying degrees of muskellunge populations with one fully matured musky every two acres.

Seasons for Musky

Muskellunge can be sensitive to the weather. As mentioned above, they appear in shallow waters in order to sunbathe. Though this does not mean that they always frequent warmer waters as when it’s too hot, muskellunge tend to go deeper into the water.  They usually stay in water temperatures of 33 to 78 Fahrenheit.  Comparatively, musky are more active during cloudy days in warmer waters as they search for prey. In general, muskellunge  are best caught early morning and late afternoon as its prey are active during the same times. 

When talking about the seasons however, the results will vary. During winter, musky fishing is at its slowest. In the northern parts of the United States, some lakes tend to freeze over making it hard to catch fish in general. There is some hope when trying to move over to a running river. The best time to catch muskellunge here is to wait for when the temperature is at its warmest. 

On the other hand, spring is one of the best times to catch musky as they push into shallow waters in search of food. During this season musky tend to be active during early mornings and late afternoons where the waters are warm. The same can be said for musky fishing in the summer as the window of opportunity mirrors spring. However, since most states practice catch-and-release musky fishing, taking the fish out of the water for too long may cause harm. This is mostly because of the heat. Anglers are recommended to handle the fish quickly during this time of the year. 

Finally, fall yields the best muskellunge population anglers have a chance of catching. It is during this time frame that muskellunge actively preys on fish in order to put on weight in preparation for winter. Because of this, not only are these fish more active, they’re also bigger in size and weight. So for anglers looking to catch muskellunge as trophies, this may be the best season to do so.

Always Follow the Rules

Taking all of these into account, the muskellunge is truly the North American angler’s trophy fish. However, due to its popularity and scarce numbers, many states have rules in place to ensure healthy and sustainable fishing of the muskellunge. Most anglers have to do catch and release fishing. In the state of Wisconsin, musky are can only be caught within the 50-inch length, with parts of Lake Michigan and Green Bay extending up to the 54-inch length. Open season in the state can vary little, mostly starting from the Saturday nearest to Memorial day to the end of the year. Most states also enact a one per angler possession limit throughout the year. In contrast, the state of Maine classifies the muskellunge as an invasive species and has outlawed releasing them back when caught.  Despite seeming a little strict, a significant number of population being lost can impact the local ecosystem in many ways so it is important for anglers to take all of these into account when setting out.