Muskellunge - Esox masquinongy
Also known as: Musky
It is endemic to the northeastern United States, throughout the area of the Great Lakes south to Georgia, and north to Quebec (St. Lawrence Seaway) and Ontario in Canada. It has been introduced into Manitoba west of Lake Winnipeg. It rarely ventures far from cover, and prefers shallow, heavily vegetated waters less than 40 ft. (12 m) deep, usually along rocky shorelines in slow moving streams and larger rivers.
At one time, it was believed that there were at least four species of muskellunge, but these varieties are now considered to be one species, Esox masquinongy. The exception to this is the tiger musky, which is a distinctive body that is long and sleek with a single dorsal fin located very far back near the tail. The pelvic (ventral) fins are located relatively far back on the belly, about half way between the pectoral fins and the tail, instead of directly under the pectoral fins. The mouth is large with the maxillae reaching back at least to the middle of the eyes, and broad, like a ducks bill, but full of teeth.
It can be distinguished from the pike and the pickerels by several factors. It may be barred, spotted, or have no markings at all, but any markings that do occur will be darker then the background of the body. The northern pike, by comparison, has light-colored, oblong spots against a darker body, and the chain pickerel (E. niger) has a unique chain-like pattern on the sides. The redfin and grass pickerels (subspecies of E. americanus) look much more like the musky in their markings, but they only grow to about 15 in. (38 cm) long. Another distinction occurs in the number of pores under the lower jaw. In the musky there are 6-9 along each side (rarely 5 or 10 on the side only).
This is a very popular game fish, and many anglers dedicate themselves almost exclusively to its pursuit. The musky is very elusive, and is not a common catch, even for those who continually seek it out.
The flesh is white and flaky and of excellent quality, but many caught by anglers are released.
Weed Beds (Freshwater)
Weed beds provide great structure. They provide food and shelter for baitfish, attracting game fish. Look for weed beds that lead to deeper water and create a break line, or look for sunken weed beds in deep, open water.
Trees, branches, logs, stumps, rocks,—they’re all structure. They all provide shelter, shade and protection for fish. So it’s a good place to find fish. Always watch your line, and be extra careful if you’re in a boat.
Like any structure that tilts gradually down and into deeper water, a gradual-sloping shoreline can provide plant food, attract fish and create a path out of and back into deeper water. However, a really gradual slope will create a large expanse of shallow water that will not attract fish.
Holes are glacially formed basins that are lower than the rest of the lake. Water in these holes is cooler, attracting deep-water fish on hot, summer days. You’ll need a topographical map to find them.
Points and Break lines
A point extends out from the shoreline and slopes gradually down and into deeper water. It’s a good place to fish. But a point with a quick drop-off or one that doesn’t extend into deeper water isn’t a good place to fish.
- The sloping-out formation of a point creates a break line.
- A break line draws fish from deeper water to shallow water in search of food.
- Fish the point of the point and the corners of the point (the part that curves back into the shore).
Rocks are structure. They provide fish with shelter, cover, food and a possible place to mate. Remember, fish structure. If the rocks are in deeper water or on the edge of deeper water, they provide an even better place to fish. Just avoid snagging your bait on the rocks.
Cliffs and Steep Shore Banks
A sheer cliff or bank that goes straight down into deep water provides no structure, break line, or gradual path to deeper water. So, it doesn’t attract fish. On the other hand, a cliff or bank that has an underwater shelf or slopes gradually toward deeper water does attract fish. You should also look for crumbled-off rock at the underwater base of sharp cliffs. Deep-water fish may be attracted to these rocks for food or spawning.
Freshwater Lakes and Ponds
Lakes and ponds are great places for fish to live. They produce abundant plant food and offer plenty of cover for fish to hide. Shoreline structures like docks, logs, stumps, brush and rocks provide shelter, shade and protection for fish, which means that they also provide great fishing opportunities for the anxious angler. You can fish lakes and ponds from the shore or from a boat. You can, also, find fish in shallow or deep water, in open water or near natural or near man-made structures. In lakes, you can catch freshwater fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike, pickerel, perch, panfish, trout, and even salmon. Get to know your lake’s structure. Points, inlets, holes, sunken islands, dams, submerged objects (manmade or natural), reeds and weeds are all considered structure. You should always fish in and around structure. It’s a simple formula: 1.Structure creates shallows. 2. Shallows create plant growth. 3. Plant growth attracts baitfish. 4. Baitfish attract game fish.
Riparian zones are the middle strip of vegetation between the river and the flatter land beyond the shore. These zones serve as a natural biofilter to protect water from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. And they supply shelter, food and shade for fish and other aquatic animals. A thriving riparian zone is a sign of good water quality and good fishing.
Rivers and Streams
In a lake or pond, fish have to move around to find food. In a river or a stream, the food comes to them. So moving-water fish find hiding places and travel anywhere from a few feet to up to several hundred feet, several times a day to eat.
You have to decide if you’re going to fish where the fish are hiding or where the fish are feeding. Either way, you’ll have to learn about river and stream feeding and hiding structure.
Hiding structure include undercuts in the banks, eddies, sunken trees and overhanging trees and bushes: places that provide protection from the current and above-water predators.
Feeding places include the outside of bends, merging currents, drop-offs, feeder brooks and springs: places where the current slows down and food collects or sinks.
In general, fish found in moving water tend to be a little smaller than lake fish. But they’re fighters, strong from battling the currents.
Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.
We won’t say it’s foolproof, but spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting. You can use it to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6–10 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting.
Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.
Most trolling is done using a small electric motor that moves the boat quietly through the water so fish aren’t spooked. But you can also troll by towing a lure while walking along the edge of a shoreline, bridge or pier. The speed of the boat determines the depth of your bait. And the depth of the bait is determined by the species of fish you’re trying to catch. Use a spinning reel or a bait caster for trolling. Some states don’t allow motorized trolling, so check out your local fishing regulations to avoid tangling with the fish enforcers. Trolling allows you to cover a lot of water while effectively fishing an area.
Bait & Lures
Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish
Minnows and Nightcrawlers
Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.
For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.
For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just in front of the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.
Tricks and Tips for Minnows
For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position
Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.
Worms are a good bait for nearly all freshwater fishing. You can find enough worms for fishing from a few shovels of dirt in your garden or from a shaded, damp area. Worms can also be purchased in fishing tackle stores and bait shops. For walleyes and bass use earthworms or night crawlers.
For pan fish, sunfish and trout use smaller manure worms. You can find them in cattle and horse pastures.
Trick and Tips for Worms
To prevent smaller fish from nibbling the worm without biting down on the hook, you can use just a piece of the worm.
If you have small worms, thread the hook through the side of the worm at several places along its body. For bait-stealing fish such as sunfish, thread the worm on the hook until the hook is completely covered.
Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.
Spinners have one or more blades that spin, or revolve, around a straight wire shaft. Some spinners have tails made of soft plastic or animal hair. Spinner baits are lures with one or more blades that spin around a safety pin-type shaft. Most spinnerbaits have skirts made from animal hair, vinyl, rubber or other materials.
Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.