The Muskellunge is a species of large, relatively uncommon freshwater fish of North America. The Muskellunge is the largest member of the pike family, Esocidae. The common name comes from the Ojibwa word maashkinoozhe, meaning "ugly pike", by way of French masque allongé (modified from the Ojibwa word by folk etymology), "elongated face."
Muskellunge closely resemble other esocids such as the Northern Pike and American Pickerel in both appearance and behavior. Like the Northern Pike and other aggressive pikes, the body plan is typical of ambush predators with an elongated body, flat head, and dorsal, pelvic and anal fins set far back on the body. Muskellunge are typically 28–48 in (0.71–1.22 m) long and weigh 5–36 lb (2.3–16.3 kg), though some have reached up to 6 ft (1.8 m) and almost 70 lb (32 kg). A fish reported at 88 in (224 cm) and 110 lb (50 kg) reportedly caught around 1908 has been identified as a hoax or legend. A catch and release record fish with a length of 62.25 in (158 cm) was caught in Ottawa River in July 1997. A fish with a weight of 61.25 lb (27.8 kg) was caught in November 2000 in Georgian Bay, Ontario. The fish are a light silver, brown, or green, with dark vertical stripes on the flank, which may tend to break up into spots. In some cases, markings may be absent altogether, especially in fish from turbid waters. This is in contrast to Northern Pike, which have dark bodies with light markings. A reliable method to distinguish the two similar species is by counting the sensory pores on the underside of the mandible. A Muskellunge will have seven or more per side, while the Northern Pike never has more than six. The lobes of the caudal (tail) fin in muskellunge come to a sharper point, while those of Northern Pike are more generally rounded. In addition, unlike pike, Muskellunge have no scales on the lower half of their opercula.
Anglers seek large Muskellunge as trophies or for sport. The fish attain impressive swimming speeds, but are not particularly maneuverable. The highest-speed runs are usually fairly short, but they can be quite intense. The Muskellunge can also do headshaking in an attempt to rid itself of a hook. Muskellunge are known for their strength and for their tendency to leap from the water in stunning acrobatic displays. A challenging fish to catch, the Muskellunge has been called "the fish of ten thousand casts". Anglers tend to use smaller lures in spring or during cold-front conditions and larger lures in fall or the heat of summer. The average lure is 7.9–12 in (20–30 cm) long, but longer lures of 14–26 in (36–66 cm) are not uncommon. Many times, live bait is used in the form of "muskie minnows" or 8- to 12-in-long fish strung on treble hooks. Anglers in many areas are strongly encouraged to practice catch and release when fishing for Muskellunge due to their low population. In places where Muskellunge are not native, such as in Maine, anglers are encouraged not to release the fish back into the water because of their negative impact on the populations of trout and other smaller fish species. One strategy for securing the fish is called the figure eight.
Muskellunge are found in oligotrophic and mesotrophic lakes and large rivers from northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota through the Great Lakes region, north into Canada, throughout most of the St Lawrence River drainage, and northward throughout the upper Mississippi valley, although the species also extends as far south as Chattanooga in the Tennessee River valley. Also, a small population is found in the Broad River in South Carolina. Several North Georgia reservoirs also have healthy stocked populations of Muskellunge. They are also found in the Red River drainage of the Hudson Bay basin. Muskellunge were introduced to western St. John River in the late 1960s and have now spread to many connecting waterways in northern Maine.