History for the Avid Angler: ESOX Facts and Interesting Information

History for the Avid Angler: ESOX Facts and Interesting Information

Jodie Paul February 25, 2022

Just to keep it fresh on the Musky Shop blog, why not scour the internet for the most interesting tidbits we could find on Esox.  From the science to the lore, you might be the most popular boat partner this fishing season if you have some interesting tales and fascinating facts to share about our favorite predatory fish.

Facts and History:

Muskies, native to North America, are part of the ESOX genus of predatory freshwater fish that includes only seven species: Aquitanian pike, American pickerel, Southern pike, Northern pike, Muskellunge, Chain pickerel, and Amur pike. Esox comes a Greek word meaning "large fish".  Interestingly enough, the first mention of the word "esox" in greek comes from the writings of Hesychius of Alexandria.  Hesychius was a Greek grammarian who documented a large number of obscure Greek words.  His use of "esox" is in a descriptive capacity meaning "a large kind" of fish.  Many later historians think that this reference might have been meant to actually describe the sturgeon when context is examined, but no correction has been issued and Esox remains in the pike family.

The name "muskellunge" originates from the Ojibwe "mashkinonge" meaning "ugly pike".  Also,  the Old English use of "pike" comes from the word for "pick axe" likely from the pointed face of the family of fish.  So if you put those original meanings together you might find yourself at "ugly pick axe", which is more than a sufficient description of the musky we know and love.

The muskellunge is considered an apex predator with it's only threats coming from humans and very large predatory birds (eagles and other large predatory birds have been know scour lakes for smaller muskies).  Its body has evolved for short bursts of high energy to ambush it's targeted prey with large toothy jaws for capturing and holding prey of significant size.  Though very rare, musky attacks on humans have been documented through interviews, but never captured on video.  One of the few documented cases being Kim Driver of Manitoba (article and interview) if you are interested in a following up.

Muskies have sometimes been found to school outside of the spawn.  This behavior has been recorded, but never fully understood.  It might just be a thought of safety in numbers for the smaller variety predatory fish.

The Muskellunge is not only the State fish of Wisconsin, but the current World Record Musky hails from the state as well.  Louis Spray's 69lb 11oz fish caught in 1949 on Chippewa Flowage still holds the record, but plenty of other states have put up their own trophy class monsters. 

  • Steve Leatherwood holds the record in Alabama with a 19lb 8oz fish caught in 1972.
  • A state record was set in Delaware in 2013 by Thomas Sutton with a 20lb 8oz showing.
  • Georgia states it's record musky as a 38lb behemoth caught on Lake Blue Ridge in 1957 by Rube Golden.
  • The current record in the great state of Illinois is another 38lb 8oz fish caught by Matt Carmean on Lake Shelbyville Spillway, a well known fishery in Illinois.
  • Darrin Conley set the Indiana state record in 2002 with a huge 42lb 8oz monster.
  • Spirit Lake and Kevin Caldwell hold the record in Iowa from back in 2000 with a 50.38lb musky.
  • In Kentucky, the state record belongs to Sarah Terry with a 47lb fish caught on Cave Run Lake.
  • Onezime Dufour set the Maine state record back in 2010 with a 33lber on the St. John River.
  • The Potomic River delivered a monster into the hands of Tessa Cosens for a 32.5lb Maryland state record.
  • Joe Seeberger shattered the Michigan state record back in 2012 with a 58lb fish.
  • Art Lions caught the state record way back in 1957 with a 54lb fish caught on Lake Winnebigoshish in Minnesota.
  • Even Missouri posts its record at 41lbs 2oz hailing from Lake of the Ozarks caught by angler, Gene Snelling in 1981
  • Back in 1992 Jared Haddix joined record holders when he boated a state record fish in Nebraska, producing a 41lb 8oz fish from Merrit Lake.
  • New Jersey joins the conversation with Bob Neals producing the record 42lb 13oz musky there in 1997
  • The New York record is highly debated and unconfirmed as the possible world record with a 69lb 15oz in 1957 of the St. Lawrence River.  This fish is still contested today.
  • 2001 was a great year for Richard Dodd who caught a 41lb 8oz state record for North Carolina on Lake Adger.
  • The North Dakota record was set by Cory Bosch back in 2007 with a 46lb 8oz trophy musky.
  • Ohio record is still old new from back in 1972 with Joe Lykins posting a 55.13lb monster.
  • Pennsylvannia is still holding on to the oldest state record set waaaay back in 1924 with a 54lb 3oz fish caught by Lewis Walker Jr.
  • Zavier Jeffreis of South Dakota holds the state record with a 40lb fish caught at Amsden Dam in 1991.
  • Tennessee's record is held by our friend, Steven Paul, caught on Melton Hill Reservior weighing in at 43lbs 14oz.
  • In 2007 Shannon Hill put a whopper in the boat out of New River for a 45lb 8oz record in Virginia.
  • Chris Beebe holds the Vermont record of a 38lb 3.5oz musky reeled in from the Missisquoi River.
  • And Anna Marsh set the West Virginia state record with a monster 49.75lb musky pulled out of Stonecoal Lake.

We can't talk about the Esox family without incorporting some interesting history for several parts of the world.  Known more widely outside of the United States as "pike" regardless of species, the esox family of fish are featured on many "Coat of Arms" as recognition of their prominence in history and culture.

The town of Uusikaupunki, Finland has incorporated "pike" into its Coat of Arms since its founding in 1617.  It has been updated a few times since, but the figures remain the same, representative of the towns reliance on fishing.

The English title of Baron Lucy established in 1320 also featured "pike" on their coat of arms representative of the "esox lucius" or Northern Pike.  Title was brief and has not been used since 1398.

Gimte, a village in Lower Saxon, Germany has also used the opportunity to display the  "Esox" in it's coat of arms though I might add in a more bold fashion. The village of Gimte is located along the Weser River, known for it's Northern Pike and salmon.  This waterway likely inspired the village to create the lovely Coat of Arms you see below.

Outside of the science of naming and the historical significance of the Esox family of fish, there are plenty of other interesting tidbits of information from some of the other members of this family.  Muskies are our favorite target perhaps because of their enormous size, but there are some interesting Esox you've likely never seen or heard of. 

The Amur Pike of Asia, found in parts of Russia, China and Mongolia is a wild variety.  A failed attempt to stock these pike took place in Pennsylvania in the late 60's and early 70's in Glendale Lake.  Sized in the 40" range these fish were black spotted and there was even a brief attempt to create hybrids with local Northerns. The project eventually failed and as far as we know, there are no remaining fish or hybrids in Glendale Lake.  It would take a trip to the far east to find one these days.

The most recent addition to our Esox family is the Aquatanian pike, discovered recently in 2014 in France.  Very similar to the Northern pike variety but further studies have concluded that this variation is it's own distinct species.  As it's been long misunderstood, it is believed that this species has long been sold in French fish markets as Northern Pike with no one the wiser all these years.

Hopefully you find some of these facts and tales as interesting as we do when it comes to Esox.  There is so much more lurking out there on the internet and hopefully we'll be able to compile more!