Muskellunge (Muskie, Musky) – Appearance, Habitat, Prey

Muskellunge (aka Musky or Muskies) are the largest of all freshwater game fish in NYS. They can grow up to 50 inches long, and weigh up to 60 pounds, making them a sought after trophy fish. The New York State record musky weighed 69 pounds 15 ounces and measured in at 34 inches long. Muskellunge are also very long-lived and can reach up to 50 years of age.

fisherman on a boat holding a freshly caught muskie

They are somewhat slender and elongated and have long rounded bodies and large heads with a small but wide mouth. Muskies range in color from light green or olive on the back to yellowish white on their bellies. They have dark spots of varying sizes along their bodies, although the exact color patterns vary depending on where they live.

Muskies are a member of the pike family. They can be distinguished from northern pike by their longer snouts and body shape. Northern pike also lack the musky’s distinctive jaw structures, which are made up of several rows of large teeth.

Muskies vs. Tiger Muskellunge

Muskellunge and tiger musky are two species of fish that share many similar characteristics, but have some important differences as well.

  1. Muskellunge are native to NYS, while tiger muskies were introduced in 1991.
  2. Tiger muskies are easily identified by their distinct tiger striping of black, green, gold, blue, and white.
  3. Musky can grow to be much larger than tiger muskellunge with tiger muskies only reaching a maximum of 18-30 inches as adults. 
  4. Finally, native muskie are primarily piscivores (fish eaters), while tiger muskellunge have a more varied diet and feed on fish, insects, frogs, and crayfish.

Where to Find Muskie

angler holding a muskellunge caught at night

New York State boasts some of the most abundant and diverse populations of muskellunge in North America. Here, muskie can be found in a variety of waterways including lakes, rivers, and streams. From the great lakes and large river systems to smaller inland lakes and shallow bays.

Here are the top 5 places for muskellunge fishing in NYS

1. Lake Ontario – Located in Northern New York, this immense body of water is a muskie anglers fishing paradise. There are plenty of muskies ready to be caught in the great lakes, along with walleye, pike, and sturgeon. If you’re looking for an exciting experience, this is the place to fish for musky!

2. Oneida Lake – This lake is located in Central NY and is a popular fishing destination for musky anglers. With numerous muskies to be caught here, you won’t run out of opportunities anytime soon. Oneida Lake also offers plenty of fish species such as walleye, pike, bass, and catfish for those looking for variety.

3. St. Lawrence River – The St. Lawrence River runs through Northern NYS and is a muskie mecca. There are plenty of muskies to be caught here as well as an abundance of additional fish species such as walleye, pike, bass, and catfish. If you’re looking for a unique fishing experience, this is the perfect spot to try your hand at hooking a musky.

4. Chautauqua Lake – Located in Western New York, Chautauqua Lake is a fishing hotspot for musky enthusiasts. This lake provides anglers with plenty of muskies to be caught as well as an array of additional fish species such as walleye, pike, and bass.

5. Cayuga Lake – This lake is located in Central NY and is a great place to fish for muskie. The muskies in Cayuga Lake are plentiful, as are numerous fish species such as walleye, pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass. If you’re looking for a muskie-fishing adventure, this is a good choice. 

No matter where you are in NYS, good fishing can be found. From the lakes in the north to Cayuga Lake in the south, muskies abound and provide plenty of opportunities for a great fishing experience. Be sure to check out these five bodies of water when fishing for muskie in NYS!

Muskie Habitat (Depth, Temperature, Structure) in Lake Ontario and Beyond

Man holding a muskellunge on a boat at night

Muskellunge are most often found living in deep, cold water near structure such as rocks and logs, or vegetation. They usually inhabit lakes and streams with rocky bottoms. Anglers looking to target these fish should focus on areas with deep, cold water and plenty of cover. However, in some areas of NYS these trophy fish can be found in shallow waters near weed edges and structure, which they use as cover while they hunt. 

Muskie are solitary fish that prefer not to “school” with other muskie, though they may temporarily group up during spawning season or when hunting for food. 

Muskie’s Natural Prey

Muskies are the fish at the top of the food chain in New York State and they prey on a variety of other species. Their primary prey include other fish including yellow perch, walleye, muskellunge, smallmouth and largemouth bass, and minnows which are local to their area. However, they have also been known to prey on crayfish, frogs and aquatic insects.

Some say that muskies will eat fish that aren’t native to the area, such as rainbow trout. Still though, anglers tend to have more success using bait available in the immediate environment. Anglers should be aware of what type of bait fish is likely to attract muskies and use it accordingly. Muskies are active hunters and will strike quickly when they detect prey. They ambush their targets, using cover to their benefit. 

Musky Spawning Behavior – When Do Musky Spawn? 

Muskellunge tend to spawn in the spring and early summer months, usually in water temperatures is between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. They prefer clear, cold water with aquatic vegetation and slower streams or tributaries for spawning.

Spawning muskies will typically form large groups known as spawning beds, where they deposit their eggs. After muskies spawn, they typically disperse and go back to feeding-which is when anglers can start trolling for muskie along weed lines and structures.

In NYS, muskie spawning usually takes place in May or June. Understanding muskie spawning behavior can help anglers target the fish more effectively during the early-spring for pre spawn musky fishing and mid-summer months for post spawn musky fishing.

When muskellunge are actively spawning, they become territorial, making them easy to locate. Anglers should look for muskie spawning sites in slow-moving or still waters, particularly near rocky shorelines and shoals. 

Fishing Tips and Tricks for Muskellunge Anglers

angler at night holding large musky

Known as “the fish of 10,000 casts,” muskellunge are a prized catch for anglers throughout the state. As muskie can grow to be quite large, it is important to use the right tackle. Heavy-duty rods and reels are recommended for musky fishing. You should plan for muskies exceeding 30 pounds and pick your equipment accordingly! Make sure you have an appropriate muskie net as well to ensure a safe catch and release.

When it comes to muskellunge fishing techniques, there are several approaches that can be used depending on the conditions of the lake or river.

In rivers and streams, anglers hoping for a musky fish with a variety of lures such as spinners, spoons, jerkbaits and crankbaits. To target muskellunge in deeper water, try trolling large crankbaits and bucktail jigs. Most muskies are attracted by noisy lures, so casting lures that create a loud vibration is an effective tactic to catch these fish.

5 of the best Lures for Musky Fishing

1. Rapala Husky Jerk: A favorite among muskie anglers in NYS, the Rapala Husky Jerk is a top-choice as it offers a classic jerkbait design with an erratic side-to-side action that muskies find irresistible.

2. Musky Innovations Bulldawg: This muskie lure is designed to mimic the actions of a wounded baitfish, making it attractive to muskies. It has a wide wobbling action that triggers muskies into striking.

3. Musky Mania Jake: The Jake from Musky Mania offers an erratic and aggressive swimming pattern when retrieved, which muskies love. It also offers great durability and longevity, making it a popular lure choice for musky anglers.

4. Suicks: These muskie lures feature a unique design that creates an erratic swimming action which muskies are drawn to. The rubber material used for their construction is highly durable, making them ideal for musky fishing.

5. Bucktails: Bucktail musky lures are popular among musky anglers because they come in a variety of colors and sizes, making them easy to customize depending on the current conditions. The bright colors attract muskies quickly and the multiple blades create a loud vibration that muskies can’t resist.

With the right tackle and techniques, muskellunge anglers are bound to have plenty of success on the water!

Weedless Baits

In lakes with large weedbeds or other vegetation, muskie can be caught using weedless baits. These baits are designed to travel through weedbeds without getting tangled up. Spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and jigs work well for muskellunge in these areas.

5 Baits Commonly used for Muskellunge Fishing

angler standing at night with a large muskie

Live baitfish, either caught or purchased, can be used to entice adult muskellunge. A simple bottom-bouncing rig with live bait works well for muskie in deeper waters, and is a popular option for anglers.

1. Live minnows: muskie love live bait, and they can be quite aggressive when it comes to chasing after a live minnow.

2. Spoons and spinners baits: muskie will often strike at spoons and spinners that resemble small live fish in the water.

3. Soft plastics: muskie have a tendency to hit soft plastics, so using plastic lures can be an effective strategy when trying for musky.

4. Suckers: muskie love to eat suckers, and they’re a great bait for musky fishing in New York State.

5. Shad: shad is an excellent muskie bait, and it’s a great choice for musky fishing. Shad can be fished either live or as chunks.

Live bait is an excellent way to catch muskie, and these five baits are ideal choices for muskie angling. By using the right bait and presentation, muskie anglers can have a great day of fishing on New York State waterways!

5 Fly fishing tips for catching Musky

Finally, fly fishing is another popular technique for muskellunge in NYS. Large streamers and poppers are the best baits for muskellunge when fly fishing.

1. Use the right tackle: muskellunge are powerful fish and require heavy-duty equipment to land them safely. Look for a medium-heavy to heavy rod. Most anglers use 8 to 10 weight rods for musky. Your reel needs to be able to handle these powerhouse fish. Use a large arbor reel and make sure you have good drag control. Here’s a great video from Livin’ the Dream Guide Service that talks about setting up the ideal fly fishing leader

2. Choose the Right Flies: Crayfish patterns, and muskie streamers are both good options. Make sure your flies are big enough to get the muskie’s attention, but not so large as to be easily missed.

3. Be Patient: Musky fishing requires patience and often times a lot of casting with no result. Don’t give up too soon!

4. Stay Stealthy: As muskies are line-shy, it’s important to stay quiet and move slowly when you are fishing for musk.

5. Use the Right Location: Look for areas with cover such as weeds, wood, or rocks where muskies like to hide. Also look for drop-offs nearby that muskies use to ambush prey.

These are just some of the tips that will help you have success musky fishing in New York State. With the right gear, technique, and patience, you’ll be musky fishing like a pro in no time! Good luck out there!

No matter what technique you choose, musky fishing is a rewarding experience and one that you will remember for years to come. So grab your gear and get out on the water!

Fishing Charters

If you’re looking for a muskie-fishing charter, there are plenty of options in NY. From Lake Ontario to Oneida Lake, muskie charters provide anglers with an experienced guide and all the gear needed to make your musky-fishing experience successful. Most musky-fishing charters will provide rods, reels, tackle and bait, as well as muskellunge lures.

Whether you’re an experienced muskie angler or a beginner looking for tips and tricks, musky-fishing charters are a great way to learn the sport and catch muskellunge in New York State. So, if you’re ready to get out on the water and catch some muskie, look no further than a musky-fishing charter!

New York State Muskellunge rules and regulations

When fishing for muskellunge in New York State, anglers must comply with the regulations established by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The muskie conservation rules are intended to ensure that muskellunge populations remain healthy and strong for future generations.

As of 2022, the state-wide fishing regulations for muskellunge changed to allow an open season from June 1st to November 30th. The new regulation also included a 40-inch minimum size limit and a daily possession limit of just one fish. These changes raised the size limits and opened the season earlier than they were previously.

Anglers should be aware of muskellunge spawning seasons, which vary by region. Spawning muskellunge must not be disturbed or harassed in any way. To ensure that NYS muskellunge populations remain healthy and continue to thrive, it is important to abide by the muskellunge regulations set forth by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

By following these rules, anglers can help ensure a healthy population of muskellunge. Ensuring that fishing for musky in New York State remains a rewarding and enjoyable experience for generations to come.