Muskies are often referred to as “ugly pike.” That’s not a very favorable nickname, now is it?
However, if you like to fish and have enjoyed going after pike (or even pickerel) in the past, you may want to consider going after the pike relative – the muskie.
Its full name is the muskellunge. This fish, which gets its name from the Ojibwe word “maashkinoozhe”, the direct translation of ugly pike, is a large predatory fish that is incredibly fun to catch.
Although most people recommend catch and release when it comes to muskie fish, you may be wondering if you can eat muskie?
I’m here to tell you that you can safely eat the fish as long as you pay attention to a few recommendations.
Here’s what you need to know.
Can You Eat Muskie?
If you’re wondering whether it’s safe and legal to eat muskie, the answer is… it depends. In some places, eating a muskie can come with a hefty price tag.
You’ll need a permit from the government to go after and keep these fish. If you don’t, you may suffer consequences such as tough fines.
You also need to keep in mind that muskie, because they are apex predators, can harbor large amounts of mercury in their bodies. And consumption of mercury can cause some long term health problems.
However, in most cases, you’ll be able to eat muskie as long as you mind a few specific conditions – which I’ll discuss in this article.
What Is Muskie?
Muskie are long, powerful fish that are shaped just like torpedoes. They can be a bit intimidating to look at, with large mouths and teeth that they use for hunting.
The fins of the fish are positioned behind the centerline, with each fish also possessing a powerful rear tail that helps it swim incredibly fast.
Most muskies are patterned with spots and stripes and a brown-green in color. The fish aren’t very exciting at all in their appearance – their bland coloring helps them to blend in well with the vegetation in which they hunt.
Found in the northern portions of the United States and Canada, muskies prefer to hide in low-level water with plenty of natural structure.
They are most often found in clear water fringed with weeds as well as in rock caves.
These fish prefer to live in more northern climates because they can tolerate cool water temperatures. They are best caught in the fall.
How to Catch a Muskie
There are several tricks and techniques you can use to catch muskies, but you’ll want to look into the regulations in your local area first to make sure you aren’t violating any laws with your chosen fishing technique.
One of the easiest ways to catch muskies is by trawling. Trawling is when you use a fishing net to catch fish.
You have to pay close attention to how thick and densely the weeds are packed into the bottom of the water area – this will ultimately determine your success.
You can also catch muskies in the old-fashioned way – by angling. You will want to use the proper lures and very strong tackle to make sure you can muster up the strength to fight these powerful fish!
Your lures should be large – at least between 8 and 12 inches. Muskie can be somewhat lazy, so using crankbaits or other smaller baits is not a bad idea.
Needless to say, you are going to need a specialized fishing rod and reel (like these musk reels) to help you withstand the pressure of these powerful fish.
No matter what kind of fishing technique you choose when going after muskie, it’s important that you pay attention to the water quality.
Make sure you know how deep and densely packed the water is so your fishing gear doesn’t get tangled.
Remember that you’ll need a super-strong braided fishing line, too. Since muskies are so large and aggressive, they are much more likely to break your line.
The best time to fish for muskie is in the early spring or late fall months.
What to Consider When Eating Muskie
As a member of the pike family, the muskie is quite large. It’s an apex predator, generally measuring in between two and four feet long. They weigh around 15 to 36 pounds.
Large muskies, though, can weigh up to 70 lbs and measure more than six feet long! These fish aren’t common, but usually, females are the largest.
Muskies, partially because of their size, grow quite slowly. The average muskie only grows to about 11 inches long during its first year of life.
By the time it’s 17 years old, it will be around 50 inches long, with females growing much more quickly than males.
Because muskie grows slowly – and because it is easy for fry to be lost to birds, fish, and other predators – it’s very difficult to replace mature muskies.
That’s something to keep in mind if you are fishing somewhere in which the fish are found.
Fishing for muskie is usually heavily regulated and there will be long minimum lengths and prohibitions on certain fishing techniques, too.
Muskies, due to their size and slow reproductive rates, are particularly vulnerable to being overfished. They are heavily regulated and protected by size limits and bag restrictions.
However, muskies are also being increasingly released into nonnative waters in the northern United States.
There, they are often viewed as a threat to native species. Because they are somewhat invasive, they are beginning to jeopardize fisheries for other species, like landlocked salmon and wild brook trout.
In many states where this is a concern, muskie fishing is not actively managed or regulated at all. How do you use this information responsibly when you are deciding whether to eat muskie?
For starters, begin by checking the ecology and regulations in your local area. If muskies have been introduced and are not regulated, you will probably do no harm by keeping your catch.
After all, you are helping to protect native species!
However if you are fishing somewhere in which muskie are naturally found, that might not be the case, and it could be more disruptive to the local ecosystem for you to keep your catch instead.
Muskies are apex predators and they feed voraciously. They will eat anything that can fit into their mouths, swallowing prey that is up to a third of their length.
Therefore, muskies will eat fish of all kinds, including other muskies. They will also eat birds, muskrats, frogs, and anything else that happens to come by.
Unfortunately, because of this, muskies tend to hang on to environmental toxins in their flesh, and these toxins accumulate more and more the older a muskie gets.
Therefore, you need to be careful about eating too much muskie on a regular basis. There are also certain groups of people who should avoid eating too much muskellunge as part of their diet.
Mercury is a particular area of concern.
Children under 15 years old, women who are pregnant, and nursing women should avoid eating muskellunge regularly. Mercury can produce undesirable and long term health effects.
What Do Muskie Taste Like?
People who love eating muskies will tell you that muskie tastes quite similar to bass. Others believe it tastes more like pike.
Either way, muskie is more of a bland fish with not as much flavor as other fish species, like salmon or tuna. Much of the taste of the fish depends on how you cook it.
Without a doubt, though, the fillets of a muskie are sure to please!
How to Clean Muskie
Muskie are similar to other fish in the Esocidae family, just like pike. If you’ve ever cleaned pike, you probably already know how difficult they are to clean.
This is because they have thick Y-shaped bones that make producing a clean fillet practically impossible.
However, as you also probably know if you’ve spent a lot of time cleaning and working with pike, there are certain techniques you can master to make the task a little bit easier.
Here’s a video below that will show you how to do it. You may want to remove the skin of your muskie before trying to remove the bones, too.
My Favorite Muskie Recipe
Muskie can be cooked like any other kind of fish. They can be baked, pan-fried, grilled, or steamed.
The best way to cook muskie depends on your taste preferences as well as what you plan on serving your fish with.
One of my favorite ways to prepare and eat muskie is with bacon. Bacon makes everything taste great!
To start, you’ll prepare a large pan over medium heat. Cook your bacon first, crisping it up nicely. Remove the bacon from the pan.
Then, you’ll fry the muskie in the bacon fat. Add a few tomatoes, cooking for five minutes. Once your tomatoes become soft, you can add the bacon back in.
You can add some salt and pepper to taste along with a couple of cloves of minced garlic, too. Remove the muskie when it has browned and crisped up nicely.
Is it Safe to Eat Muskie?
Muskie are highly-sought after game fish, but unfortunately, they reproduce poorly and grow slowly once they do.
Maintaining a healthy population in native waters is tough to do. Since muskie tends to be heavily regulated.
However, if you’re fishing in an area where muskies are not naturally found, it’s perfectly fine to keep your catch. As always, though, make sure you check into local regulations about bag limits and size restrictions.
You should also do some research into the toxicity of the water and whether it’s safe to eat muskie and other large fish specifically where you are fishing.
Some lakes and other bodies of water have advisories in place that recommend against eating your catch from their waters.
As long as muskies are not threatened here you are fishing and the waters are clear, this fish is an absolutely delicious treat.