Family: Esocidae
Common Family: The Pike Family
Name: Muskellunge (Musky)
Scientific Name: Esox masquinongy

Ecological Description

Muskellunge are considered by many anglers to be the premier freshwater fish. Its large size and fighting spirit make it one of North America’s favorite sport fish. Many anglers develop a cult-like following and choose to fish for nothing else. Adults can range from 30 inches to more than 50 inches and weigh over 40 pounds. The Ohio River drainage in West Virginia is native habitat, with numerous other locations supporting fishable populations through WVDNR stocking efforts. Muskies are long cylindrical cigar-shaped fish with a recognizable snout filled with razor sharp teeth. They vary in color with a usual olivaceous to brown back fading to lighter coloration along its flanks with a titanium white belly. Various spot and barring coloration can be seen over these base colors along the flanks mostly. Like most fish, they can alter their coloration to their surroundings, which they do often to disappear from unsuspecting prey. 

The muskellunge is a solitary hunter, lurking about cover and lunging after suitable prey. Being a top-level predator, their density or overall numbers are not as high as other fish anglers pursue. One of their acquired nicknames is the fish of 10,000 casts. Because of this, you must be prepared to fish for a while to set the hook on a muskellunge. They utilize a coil-and-spring attack action from slack water areas and behind cover to grasp unsuspecting prey, utilizing their razor-sharp teeth. And they swallow preferred large-forage fish head first. Prey items consist mainly of soft-rayed forage species such as suckers and shad but can also include birds, small mammals, ducks, amphibians and crayfish. In many riverine locations, they utilize large expanses of habitat annually with movements in excess of 50 river miles. Spawning activity takes place in the spring when water temperature is 50-60 F. Intense courtship rituals occur between the males and females.


Muskellunge inhabit clear vegetated lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers. Their native range in West Virginia includes the Ohio River drainage. However, WVDNR stocking has expanded their historic range. They have great preference for woody structure, downed trees and extremely slack water areas of waterbodies.

Conservation Issues

Habitat loss and water quality degradation are two of the muskellunge’s biggest threats. To counter these problems, various sportsman’s groups assist the WVDNR with conservation efforts to maintain and enhance current populations. 


The current International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record muskellunge, caught in 1949 in Wisconsin, weighed 67 pounds, 8 ounces. It reportedly measured 60.25 inches. Numerous West Virginia bait makers produce and sell lures across the state. The term “figure 8” is associated with muskellunge fishing. Often due to being very curious, muskies will appear and follow an angler’s bait up to the boat but refuse to strike. A common tactic for catching a muskie is for the angler to run the lure in wide circular arcs or figure 8 pattern beside the boat with the belief that the slight change in depth and direction will spur the somewhat interested fish into striking. This is a deadly technique, and boat-side strikes are another appeal of muskie fishing. 

The West Virginia length record for Muskellunge is 54.06 inches (Chase Gibson, 2021) and the weight record is 49.75 pounds (Anna Marsh, 1997).

Similar Species

Muskellunge can and are often confused with northern pike, chain pickerel and even the pike/muskellunge hybrid–the tiger muskellunge in appearance and behavior.