Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)
The muskellunge (muskie) is the largest member of the pike family. Among New York's top muskie waters are the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers, Chautauqua Lake, and Black Lake. Other waters such as the Allegheny, Delaware, and Susquehanna rivers, Lake Erie, and eastern Lake Ontario have muskellunge, but they are rare. They have been stocked in a few other lakes across the state.
Muskellunge spawn in the spring following the northern pike spawning period. Water temperatures between 48° and 56°F seem to be optimum for muskellunge spawning. Their age at first spawning varies between 3 and 6 years old. The males move to the spawning grounds first, the females following. Actual spawning takes place at night in shallow, muck-bottomed bays or coves, especially those with sunken stumps or logs. Eggs are distributed along several hundred feet of shoreline. No nests are built, and no parental care is given to eggs or young.
Muskies prefer habitat with clear, quiet water. Submerged weed beds interspersed with sunken stumps and logs are all components of ideal muskie habitat. They tend to move little, staying in their favorite lairs awaiting their prey, which consists of fish, frogs, snakes, small mammals, and aquatic birds. Muskies are sometimes cannibalistic to the extent of damaging their own populations. A rapidly growing fish, they reach sizes of several feet and can be in the 40-60-pound class. They are highly prized as sport fish; unfortunately, they are rather rare and few are caught.
The norlunge (or tiger muskellunge) is a northern pike X muskellunge hybrid. While this fish is stocked in some New York waters, it may occur naturally in waters inhabited by northern pike and muskellunge. Norlunge grow faster than either parent during their first year and at nearly the same rate as their parents during following years. They also exhibit greater vitality and experience a lower mortality rate than pure northern pike or muskellunge.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has placed identification posters at access sites on waters they have stocked with norlunge to alert anglers to the presence of these fish.
Distribution of muskellunge in NY state. Dark dots represent where actual samples of muskellunge were taken. White dots represent historic distributions.
An image of the muskellunge is also available for download.