How to Tell the Difference Between a Muskie & Northern Pike

How to Tell the Difference Between a Muskie & Northern Pike
The muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), typically called a muskie, and the northern pike (Esox lucius) are both members of the Esocidae family of fish. Along with the chain pickerel and the grass pickerel, these two species comprise the four members of this family found in the United States. The pike and the muskie have a similar appearance, being elongated, cylindrical and possessing a flattened ducklike snout full of sharp teeth. You can tell the difference between these two species by looking at certain features.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Study the coloration of a northern pike compared to that of a muskie. A muskellunge has a light-colored body with darker shaded vertical bars along its length, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The muskie's body is a light-green gray to a lighter hue of olive-brown.

The northern pike has a dark body, usually dark green-yellow to grayish-green. Along the sides of a northern pike, you will notice many oblong blotches shaped like beans, white or yellow.
Step 2
Turn a northern pike and a muskie over and count the number of pores on the underside of the lower jaw. These pores are minute sensory openings on the outer edges under the jaw. The northern pike will have no more than five of these tiny holes. The muskellunge will have at least six, and sometimes as many as nine. This is the surest way to determine one from the other, but be careful--both species have rows of sharp teeth that you will do well to avoid.
Step 3
Examine the scales on the cheeks of these fish closely. A northern pike's cheeks have a thorough covering of scales. On the muskellunge, only the upper half of the cheek has scales, according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's website.
Step 4
Compare the lengths and weights of the muskie and northern pike. The adult pikes will be smaller than the adult muskie on average. The northern pike is able to grow past 40 inches and 20 lbs. when food conditions are right. However, some muskies can easily exceed 40 lbs. and 4 feet. 

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