BlogMay 2024

Tips for Trophy Muskies

Tips for Trophy Muskies

By Andy Whitcomb

May 20, 2024

Trophy freshwater fish range in size depending on the species. Although almost always released, one of the biggest temporary trophies in the U.S. is the elusive muskie. Here are some facts about this apex predator.

The muskellunge, or muskie for short, is a large, apex predator freshwater fish which is closely related to a pike. In fact, pike and muskie are so closely related that they can hybridize to create a “tiger muskie.” And much like any other apex predator, if a monster muskie even just makes an appearance on a fishing trip, you’ve got yourself an instant fish story.


Definitions of trophy muskies vary from state to state. Regulations are always measured by muskie length, but some muskie size record categories use muskie weight if caught with a certain line weight strength. Although rarely harvested, in Pennsylvania, a muskie must be at least 40 inches; for inland bodies of water in Minnesota that number grows to 54 inches. For comparison, in Florida, there are seven SHARK species that have a 54-inch minimum size limit. These lengths are difficult to fathom for most bass, walleye, or trout anglers whose own trophies could conceivably be the size of muskie fishing bait.


Trophy muskie fishing usually involves wire leaders, heavy fishing line, and rods equipped to launch enormous hoagie-sized lures. Often these lures resemble fish such as suckers and trout, but when fishing lures also can imitate ducks, loons, or muskrats, this tells you something about the predatory capabilities and potentially aggressive muskie behavior. They will bite all year if plenty of cool, well-oxygenated water is available, but cooler months may increase chances due to muskie spawning areas, concentrating fish or less boating and fishing activity.


Although initially similar in appearance, muskie are readily distinguishable from pike by coloration differences (completely clear, vertical stripes or dark pattern on light), lacking scales on lower half of jaw, and tail fin points being less rounded than a pike. Muskie habitat also is similar to pike in that they both seek vegetation and slack water areas. However, pikes usually have higher natural reproduction and thus are more common in northern waters. In his book, “Fishes of the Allegheny,” Dr. Turner described muskie populations as “widespread, but never abundant.” Lurking at the top of the food chain and even preying on pike, this relative quantity seems to apply to most other bodies of water as well.


They can be difficult to locate, and trophy muskies fishing requires many casts or long trolling periods. Muskie also are notorious for following a lure without committing. My son and I once had an enormous, Jaws-like, slow-torpedo wake follows a topwater lure for several long breathless seconds before it disappeared. The “Figure 8” taunting technique at the boat failed to get any more attention. Eventually we calmed down and resumed catching small crappies but switched to lifting them into the boat to unhook rather than lipping in the water, convinced that there were trophy muskies watching from below.

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.