Updated on September 23, 2022
The muskellunge, commonly known as muskie or musky, is a freshwater apex predator native to the cool waters of the Northern United States. The musky is the largest member of the pike family and one of the most sought-after inland trophy fish. Muskies inhabit bodies of water which also hold a smaller member of the family, the northern pike. However, once a musky grows big enough, its smaller relative often becomes prey.
The name muskellunge originally comes from tribes native to the northern US and Canada. Depending on the translation the name means “great fish” or “big pike”. The fish itself is a large ambush predator with a long, thin shape built for speed. They have an impressive set of teeth built for snagging prey, and given the opportunity will eat almost anything including reptiles, mammals, and other fish that sometimes appear too large to fit in the musky’s mouth.
Musky are targeted mostly for sport and as a trophy fish due to their size and the difficulty and skill involved in catching them. As a general rule, musky can be finicky and may appear but not seem to like the presentation. There is a reason they are known as the “fish of 10,000 casts”. Sometimes they can be enticed with a last minute figure-8 by the boat but more often than not they will swim away and leave you trying again. This contrasts with pike, who are likely to anything that comes their way.
Since Musky are apex predators, naturally there are fewer of them in a given body of water and they will be fairly spread out. Even with plenty of skill and experience musky anglers are considered successful if they catch one fish or even just get a few bites. Steven put it best by saying “in bass fishing people ask “how’d you do today?” but for musky fishermen they ask “how’d you do this week?””
The ideal water temperature range for muskie is between 60 and 70 degrees which makes them a cool-water fish. The fish are large apex predators that ambush prey. These cooler water temperatures hold enough oxygen in the water for muskie to recover after they exert a large burst of energy to ambush prey.
Within a body of water, muskie will move to find temperatures that are most comfortable. The key areas to target for temperature sensitive fish are deep water, shallow water, and feeding streams. Shallow areas and inflowing water are the most volatile and typically create warmer waters in the summer and cooler in the winter. Deeper waters change temperature slowly which means, compared to other parts of a lake, it’s cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
To effectively target muskies, it’s important to understand and target the areas that provides the conditions they prefer. The best times to catch muskie occur in the fall and spring months when temperatures are in the ideal range of 60 to 70 degrees. The peak muskie bite will vary depending on geography and environmental conditions but it can be identified by gaining an intimate understanding of how temperature change occurs in your local body of water. With that knowledge, you will be able to effectively target muskie, and make the most of your time on the water.
When discussing the best time of day to go fishing, dawn and dusk are always great, which is an opinion Steven emphasized before diving into solar-lunar tables. According to Steven “solar-lunar is crucial, the minor & major feeding times are spot on.” Last week while fishing in Wisconsin, he explained that the bite was slow until one of the solar-lunar feeding times hit, then they proceeded to catch six musky in 15 minutes. He explained that “right now all of the bites are at moonset” regardless of whether it happens at midnight or high noon. Steven’s advice for when to target musky is to “always be on a good spot, then wait for the solar-lunar feeding windows.”