The Muskie and Northern Pike are two species under the Pike umbrella that are often, and easily, confused. Due to their similarity in appearance, even experienced anglers can have a hard time telling them apart. Let’s take a deeper dive into what makes each of these fish unique.
Is a Muskie the Same as a Pike?
No, Muskie and Pike are technically not the same. In this article, the term “Pike” refers to the Northern Pike, and not the family Pike (Esox) that both species belong to. While these species are very closely related – as evidenced by their appearance – they are not the same.
What’s the Difference Between Muskie vs Pike?
These species have a lot of overlap, however the biggest difference between the two has to do with their physical makeup. Fishermen who catch either won’t be disappointed, as both species are known for their large size and aggression.
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What is a Muskie?
The Muskie (Esox masquinongy), also known as the Muskellunge, is a predatory fish native to the northern hemisphere. This species is known as “the fish of a thousand casts” and are prized game fish for anglers who love a good fight. There are currently four recognized types of Muskie.
What is a Pike?
The Northern Pike (Esox lucius), often simply referred to as a Pike, is another predatory species within the Pike family known to be aggressive. Like the Muskie, Northern Pike can be found throughout the northern hemisphere in fresh water. These fish also go by the names Gator, Slough Snake, Jackfish, Jack. Pointy Nose, Luci and Slimer.
How to Tell the Difference Between Pike vs Muskie
Even seeing a Muskie and Northern Pike side by side will do little to help you tell them apart. These fish share so much in common that it can be hard to believe they’re two totally different species. However, Muskies and Northern Pikes can be identified by their distinct physical characteristics. You’ll want to take a look at their markings, tail, size, and pores. Let’s get into each category in more detail.
Muskie vs Pike Size Differences
Catching either a Muskie or Pike will be a great day for any fishermen. Both species are known for their large size and aggressive fight when they hit the line. However, Muskie regularly grow almost double the size of the Northern Pike. The average size of a Muskie is anywhere from 28-48 inches. The average size for a Northern Pike is 15-22 inches.
Pike vs Muskie Tail Fin
The quickest way to tell a Muskie from a Northern Pike is to look at the tail. Both species have forked tails with an upper and lower lobe, however Muskies’ fins are more pointed whereas Northern Pike have rounded tail fins. The only exception to this rule is the Tiger Muskie, a hybrid between both species.
Pike vs Muskie Coloration Differences
Both fish appear to have similar coloration at first. Muskie are generally silver, green or brown in color with a variety of markings (ranging from bars to spots, or no markings at all) that are dark in color. Northern Pike, on the other hand, are most often olive green with white or yellow bellies. The markings on Northern Pike are always lighter than their overall body color.
Pike vs Muskie Pores
Both the Muskie and Northern Pike have a series of pores along their lower jaws. These pores are used to detect movement in the water and are a perfect gauge for going after prey. If you’re using this characteristic to tell these species apart, make sure you know how to handle them! Due to their large size and small, sharp teeth, mishandling a Muskie or Pike can be dangerous.
On the underside of the jaw, a Muskie will have 6-9 pores on each side.
A Northern Pike will have 4-5 pores on each side.
Where Can You Find Pike?
Pike are holarctic, meaning they can be found in habitats throughout the northern hemisphere. These fish are comfortable in both fresh and brackish water, however they’re usually only found in brackish water in the Baltic region.
Northern Pike prefer slow-moving water and will hide in weeds and vegetation, as they’re ambush predators. However that won’t keep them from cruising in open water as well, and many anglers have caught them out in the middle of a pond or lake. Generally, Northern Pike will be in clear water.
Pike Fishing Tips
Pike are voracious predators and eat a wide variety of prey, including small mammals if the fish is large enough to swallow them (which is pretty common). Therefore, your choice in bait isn’t as important as your choice in gear.
When fishing for Northern Pike, make sure you’re outfitted with a strong rod and line. Both need to hold up against fish that can easily hit the 2-5 lb range. Because of their sharp teeth, a line that can withstand abrasion is also recommended.
If you’re fishing in a busy area and worried about drawing attention, try out flashers or poppers. Pike are ambush predators and will strike hard and fast, so be ready to react.
Where Can You Find Muskie?
Like the Northern Pike, Muskie are holarctic. In the US their native range runs from the Great Lakes region, up into Canada, west into New York, throughout the Mississippi valley, and into northern Wisconsin/Minnesota/Michigan. Due to their popularity, Muskie have also been introduced further west and south.
Muskie are often found in large lakes, rivers and ponds where the ecosystem can support them. They need a good supply of healthy prey to maintain their large size and fast growth. Muskie prefer clear water and will hang out in areas heavy in vegetation, underwater structures, or rock/cliff outcroppings.
Muskie Fishing Tips
Much like the Northern Pike, the Muskie needs gear that can withstand the sheer force it will hit you with. A strong line that can handle a fish up to 50 lbs (yes–50! And that’s not even the world record) and tackle that won’t get caught up in weeds will go a long way in bringing you in a Muskie.
Muskie and Northern Pike have the same prey, so stock up on live or artificial minnows and frogs as well as soft plastics that can withstand a heavy bite.
If you’re looking for a challenge, you’ll be a winner bringing in either of these species. Both the Muskie and Pike are impressive fish in terms of size and fight. Now that you know how to tell the difference between these two overlapping species, get out there and fish!
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