I Speak for the Fish: Meeting the mysterious muskie
By Kathy Johnson
Just like serious birders and all manner of naturalists, many divers keep a life list of the species they have seen. Typically, the more elusive the species, the more coveted the sighting. Size also plays a role in desirability, whether it’s a condor or a blue whale.
When it comes to impressively large and elusive freshwater species, a couple come to mind.
But the one that took me a decade to check off my life list, the one I made hundreds of dives before seeing, the one that others on the same dive have spotted while I missed, would be the enigmatic muskellunge.
Fortunately, muskellunge – or muskies – are far more common today than when I began diving. Today, the majority of our dives in the St. Clair River now include a muskie sighting thanks to the world-class muskie fishery in Lake St. Clair.
Lake St. Clair has the ideal conditions for muskies with a maximum depth of 21 feet and an average depth of just 11 feet. In the summer, this shallow lake gets so warm that cold-water species like whitefish could never survive, but muskies can tolerate water temperatures from near-freezing all the way up to 90 degrees.
Lake St. Clair also contains the largest freshwater delta in the world. The St. Clair Delta is a thriving wetland ecosystem with acres of dense aquatic grasses that provide nursery habitat for fish, shelter for turtles and frogs, nesting sites for birds, and nirvana for a shallow-water predator like the muskie.
An average adult muskie is 3 feet long and about 40 pounds. A record-setting 58-inch muskie weighing roughly 65 pounds was caught in Georgian Bay at the top of Lake Huron in 1988. The world record stands at 72 inches and 70 pounds, according to both the Royal Ontario Museum’s Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Ontario as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.