Welcome to Panfish

Part Twenty-one


"Pike & Muskie Basics"
By Deanna Birkholm

Excerpts from Fly Rod Gamefish
Thanks to Cowles Enthusiast Media!

Last time in Panfish, Randy Fratzke discovered a toothy critter, a big Northern Pike eating ducklings and raising havoc on his stretch of river. He has vowed to catch this Pike!

While this saga unfolds, (and until we get another installment) let's take a look at Northern Pike and their very close relative the Muskie. The following text and photos are from Fly Rod Gamefish. Our thanks to Cowles Enthusiast Media for use permission.

"A sea of misinformation surrounds the northern pike and muskellunge. Even today we hear stories of huge pike or muskies attacking swimmers or charging outboard motors. Such tales make good copy in magazine articles, but only serve to perpetuate the "evil" image of these fish.

Of course, pike and muskies are the top predators in any body of water, and they'll eat larger prey than most other freshwater fish. But they're not the ruthless killers they're commonly portrayed to be.

Northern Pike (Esox lucius) - Also known as northern, great northern pike, jack, jackfish, pickerel, brochet, luce, gator, snake. The sides vary from dark green to olive green to brown, with gold flicks and 7 to 9 rows of yellowish to whitish, bean-shaped spots. The underside is white or cream- colored. The dorsal and anal fins, which are set far back on the body, vary from greenish to reddish and have irregular black marks, as does the tail. The entire cheek and top half of the gill cover are scaled. The duckbill-shaped jays have long, sharp teeth; the roof of the mouth, pads of shorter recurved teeth. The underside of the jaw usually has 10 sensory pores.

Muskellunge: (Esox masquinongy) Also called muskie, lunge, maskinonge and innumerable other local names. Resembles the pike in most respects, but the background color of the sides is light, rather than dark, and the tips of the tail are more pointed. The sides vary from greenish to brownish to silvery, usually with dark markings, but the marks may be absent. The white or cream- colored belly often has brownish or grayish spots. The fins vary from greenish to brownish to bloodred and usually have dark markings. The cheek and gill cover have scales only on the top half. The number of pores on the underside of the jaw varies from 12 to 20, but the count is usually 15 to 18.

To become a proficient pike or muskie angler, one must put aside the backlog of misinformation about these fish and learn more about their behavior and biological requirements.

Northern pike and muskellunge, along with pickerel, are sometimes referred to as Esocids; they belong to the pike family, whose technical name is Esocidae.

Pickerel also belong to the pike family, but are much less popular with anglers because of their small size. Chain pickerel seldom exceed 5 pounds; redfin pickerel, 1 pound.

Northern pike hybridize with all other species of Esocids. The best known of these hybrids, the tiber muskie, is a pike-muskie cross. Tiger muskies, which get their name from their distinct vertical bars (opposite), are rare in nature, because pike spawn so much earlier than muskie.

But fish hatcheries can easily produce hybrids, and the fish have been widely stocked in the United States. "Hybrid vigor" makes them grow faster than either parent, at least for the first several years of life. Tigers do not reach the ultimate size of purebred muskies because their life span is shorter."

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