How the Muskie Spawn Works


Juvenile from the pike family, Muskie's are a relatively common freshwater North American fish.
Juvenile from the pike family, Muskie's are a relatively common freshwater North American fish.
Frank Greenaway/Jukka Rapo/Getty Images

A­ great way to find a giant conglomeration of fish is to seek out their spawning grounds. At the first signs of spring all across the United States, fish begin migrating toward their favorite reproductive spots. The key is to be ready when they are. So you want to find muskie? Let's go.

Muskie spawn just a few weeks later than their cousins -- northern pike -- but in much the same way. Male muskie arrives in favored spawning waters before the females, and the females leave as soon as they deposit their eggs. But unlike ­newly-hatched pike, muskie fry don't attach to vegetation for support. Instead, they fall to the bottom of the spawning area.

­Spawning generally lasts up to 10 days, during which a 40-pound (a little more than 18-kilogram) female muskie can release anywhere from 18,000 to 200,000 eggs. Males swim beside a female while releasing their seminal fluid, or milt. Some muskies have a second spawn that occurs about 14 days after the first [sources: Muskie411, TWRA].

Any spawn can be fascinating, and muskies are no exception. In this article, we'll discuss when and where the muskie spawn takes place, along with how to take advantage of this prime fishing time.

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When Muskie Spawn

Th­e spawn itself is prime fishing time, but it may be better to head out before that time. The pre-spawn period can make for some great fishing. Check with your local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to ensure pre-spawn fishing is legal in your area. If you're good to go, consider giving the pre-spawn a try.

As soon as the water temperature starts to rise in spring, muskies begin their migration to the same breeding grounds as the year before. During this pre-spawn period, female muskies are eating as much as they can muster. The female feeds aggressively during pre-spawn, as she bulks up her egg mass. The pre-spawn period tends to be February and March; you can catch plenty of hefty females during this time.

Muskies are considered sexually mature somewhere between three and four years of age. When they're old enough, they'll spawn when the temperature hits between 49 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit (9.4 and 15 degrees Celsius). Temperature is key to most fish spawns, so check the weather reports for your area to determine the best time to head out with your rod. Typically, muskie will spawn in April.

After the fish have had their share of the spawn, fishing opportunities will drop off. The female leaves the spawning site as soon as she's finished dropping her eggs, usually around one to two weeks after spawning starts. Male muskies tend to stay at the spawning site for a few weeks after spawning is complete. Muskie eggs hatch out in as little as 8 to 14 days. To help them grow, the fry first digest their yoke sac, then nearby plankton and then fish [source: Freshwater Fishing Canada].

Now you know when the muskie are spawning, but where do you find them? Read on to discover the top spawning locations.

Where Muskie Spawn

As with most things in life, muskie spawns are all about location, location, locat­ion. Feeder creeks and reservoir headwaters are usually clearer, shallower and warm up faster than deeper, darker areas of water. There are plenty of muskies in these areas to fill your cooler.

To find muskie during spawning periods, check out:

  • Channels between lakes
  • River backwaters and creeks
  • Reservoir headwaters

When you find the right location, look for specific areas that contain the things muskie like best:

  • Shallow, weedy beds
  • Silted areas over rocks
  • Dead reed stems
  • Vegetation, such as cabbage, reeds and coontail
  • Natural and man-made covers, such as docks, felled trees, rocks and stumps

Post-spawn muskie are heading back out of the channels and backwaters, eating whatever comes easiest. Once females are done spawning, they immediately leave the area and head back into deeper waters. She will recuperate for a short while, and then go back to being her normally aggressive self. Males move from the area after a short period of time, also heading to deeper summer waters. Once muskie move from their spawning areas to summer habitats, fishermen will need to change tactics to find this fish, which is aptly nicknamed the "fish of 10,000 casts" [source: Smith].

What equipment do you need to catch muskie? Read on to learn how to fish during the spawn.

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Muskie Fishing During the Spawn

Muskie­ can be quite moody, so catching them can be kind of like getting the attention of your oblivious beloved on the playground. In order to get their attention and keep it, you're going to need a healthy dose of patience and some key tools.

Again, you'll need to check with your local DNR about live bait regulations, but if you're going for artificial, try these:

  • Spinnerbaits with thumping blades
  • Wide-wobbling spoons -- recommended colors are black or red and white
  • Minnow plugs

One of the best ways to catch a muskie is to go for the famous figure-8 move. Look out over the water, imagine you're holding a pencil, and draw an 8 right there on the water.

  1. Cast the lure.
  2. Bring the lure back toward you. At this point, look a foot behind and below the lure.
  3. When you create the top of the 8 -- that first curve -- remember that slow and easy wins the race. Any sudden burst of excitement on your part can send the muskie away. Just don't go so slow that you stop the lure altogether, or the muskie will get bored and you will increase your frustration level ten-fold.
  4. Continue to make the figure 8 over and over again. Rinse and repeat.

When a tasty treat does swim by, a muskie can strike out at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour (48.28 kilometers per hour) [source: Jones]. Make sure that you're situated in such a way that you don't lose your b­alance. If you're lucky enough to land a huge muskie, the last thing you want is to end up in the water. So grab your poles -- and maybe some flowers and chocolates -- to lure that monster muskie out during the spawn.

For lots more information on muskie spawn, other types of fish and related topics, hook yourself onto the links on the next page.

­Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • ­Bucher, Joe. "Pre-Season Muskies & Pike: Understanding Spawning Behavior." The Sportsman's Guide.https://www.sportsmansguide.com/tip/tip_read.asp?tid=99401&sid=19 (accessed 11/18/08)
  • Cain, Chad. "Early Spring Muskies." Chad Cain's Muskie Guide Service.http://www.chadcain.com/articles.shtml (accessed 11/17/08)
  • Christian, David. "Muskies and the Figure 8." Big Game Tackle. 04/04/08.http://www.bigfishtackle.com/fishing_articles/Featured_Fishing_Authors/David_Christian/Muskies_and_the_Figure_Eight_55.html (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Freshwater Fishing Canada. "Northern Pike and Muskellunge: What's the Difference?"http://www.freshwater-fishing-canada.com/pikeandmuskellunge.html (accessed 11/17/08)
  • Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum. "Museum Information."http://www.freshwater-fishing.org/museuminfo.html (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Hartman, Travis. "The Muskellunge." Fondriest Environmental Monitoring Products. 08/2001.http://www.fondriest.com/species/muskellunge.htm (accessed 11/17/08)
  • IMBd. "Trivia for Blood Hook."http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090750/trivia (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Jones, Laura. "Muskie mania is a craze worth catching!" Ohio DNR. Spring 2003.http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/news/jun03/0617muskiecolumn/tabid/13502/Default.aspx (Accessed 11/18/08)
  • Muskie411. "Muskellunge."http://www.muskie411.com/fishid.html (accessed 11/17/08)
  • Minnesota DNR. "Muskellunge biology and identification."http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish/muskellunge/biology.html (Accessed 11/17/08)
  • Missouri Department of Conservation. "Muskie in Missouri: Habitat."http://mdc.mo.gov/fish/sport/muskie/habitat.htm (accessed 11/17/08)
  • Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. "Melton Hill Reservoir Muskies." 09/08/08.http://www.tnfish.org/MuskyMeltonHillLakeTennessee_TWRA/TennesseeMuskyMeltonHillLake_TWRA.htm (accessed 11/17/08)
  • Saric, Jim. "Early Season Transition Muskie." Fishing Facts.http://www.fishingfacts.com/saric.htm (accessed 11/17/08)
  • Smith, Jim. "Basic Muskie Fishing." Muskies Inc.http://www.muskiesinc.org/ss/site/content/MINC%20Pages/Magazine%20Docs/Members%20Stories/Basic%20Muskie%20Fishing-Web%20site%20Article.htm (accessed 11/17/08)