Let’s review the differences between a pike vs muskie and a pickerel. The name of the fish is something that creates a long-living debate for many. When it comes to pickerel vs. muskie, the species are very alike, and it is easy to confuse them. Even long-time fishers can mistake one specie for another.

It is significantly harder when we only know the popular names, forgetting about the scientifical names, since several popular names are related to the place where a particular species live. Luckily, with the help of the internet, it is much easier to find out which species is which. Let’s understand the difference between pickerel vs. pike and a muskie below.

pike vs muskie
Northern Pike

What is a Pike Fish?

The genus Esox is the one popularly known as pike fishes. What most people know as pike is actually the northern pike (Esox Lucius), a specific specie from this genus. They are commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere, i.e., part of the Holarctic realm. Besides the United States, most of Eastern Europe, Canada, Britain, and Ireland also know this species simply as pike.

The northern pike fish is relatively large, with an average length of 40 to 55 cm (16 to 22 in). The maximum registered recorded lengths are up to 150 cm (59 in), with published weights of 28.4 kg (63 cm). It is known that the pikes are larger in coastal areas of Eurasia than in North America.

Pike was a pole weapon from the Middle Age. Since the northern pike is similar to the weapon, it received this name. Some other names are lakes pike, jackfish, great northern pike, gator, long head, and more.

Its appearance is effortless to notice. The pikes are usually olive green, shading from yellow to white along the belly. Commonly, young pikes have yellow stripes along a green body that gets darker as they age. They have a large head and typically live for 10-15 years, but some can live 25 years.

They are ambush predators, lying in the water while waiting for their prey. Therefore, they have the skill of holding still for long periods. But don’t be fooled. They can be very fast when they want to. Their acceleration is remarkable. The pikes live in any water body that contains fish and suitable places for spawning.

Cannibalism is part of their nature, so young pike needs to take shelter between plants to avoid being eaten by their counterparts. They usually live in brackish water and return to freshwater after a while. Cold, rocky, and clear waters are good for them, and weedy places and sluggish streams.

As you may have noticed, they are quite an aggressive species, mainly regarding their feeding habits. Cannibalism is crucial for them when there are scarce food sources, but they typically eat smaller fishes, like the banded killifish. However, larger spikes feed on larger fishes.

Summers are not the best seasons for them since they have slow growth rates during this season. Their cannibalism makes their young mortality rate high. It is not easy to be a small and young pike; even their siblings are not safe from being eaten by members of the same species.

What is a Pickerel Fish?

pike vs muskie
Pickerel / Walleye Fish

The pickerel, also known as chain pickerel (Esox niger), is also a member of the Esox genus, and they are a member of the pike family. Therefore, they can be called pike, but that would be a general way of calling them. Specifically, they are different kinds of fish.

In the United States, they are also known as grass pike, jack, jackfish, southern pike, walleye and eastern pickerel. They are darker than the pikes (Niger means black in Latin), having a unique chain-like pattern on their greenish sides. Usually, their size is 61 cm (24 in), and their weight is under 1 kg (2 lb). The pickerel can live up to 8 years. Their slime coating makes them called slime darts or gunfish in some places.

They are commonly found in Lake Michigan, on the Atlantic Coast, and on the eastern coast of North America in general. Fresh and brackish water are their habitat.

Smaller fishes are their prey, and they follow the same hunting strategy as the pikes. Chain pickerel can eat worms, snakes, crayfish, mice, insects, frogs, and various foods. They have the skill of leaping out of the water to catch flying insects.

pike vs muskie
Muskie Fish

What is a Muskie Fish?

The muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) is also part of the Esox genus and can be known as the lunge, muskie, or musky fish. Some even call it “the fish of 10,000 casts”. They live in North America and are the largest member of the Esocidae family, the one of which the pikes are part.

Muskellunge originated from the Ojibwe (a Native-American language) words maashkinoozhe, which means “great fish”, and maskinoše or mashkinonge, which means “big pike” or “ugly pike”.

They act and look like the northern pike. Their behavior is typical of ambush predators, and so is their appearance. This fish has a long and flathead, elongated body, and dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins set at the back of its body. They are large, usually measuring 71 to 122 cm (28 to 48 in), and weigh between 6.8 to 16.3 kg (15 to 36 lb). Yet, some fishermen caught muskies with 32 kg (70 lb) and measured 1.8 m (6 ft).

The muskie fish can be found in large rivers, mesotrophic, and oligotrophic lakes. Clear waters are their preference, and they have two distinct home rangers during the summer, one shallow and another deeper.

Some of their prey are ducks, frogs, muskrats, mice, rats, insects, and some types of fish. Since they are one of the largest freshwater fish, size is no problem.

The Difference Between a Muskie and a Pike

Read on to learn the differences between pike vs. muskie. The northern pike and muskie fish can be very similar in habits and appearance. But they are different in some details—for example, their size. Muskies are, overall, larger than pikes. They have dark stripes as their pattern, with a pointed tail fork and 6 to 9 pores on the lower jaw.

The pike has a rounded tail fork, light spots as its pattern, and 4 to 5 pores on its lower jaw. Another way to know the difference between them is to pay attention to their origins. Muskies are usually found near the Great Lakes, but pikes can be found in the entirety of North America. Now that we know the pike vs. muskie differences, let’s learn the pickerel vs pike differences.

The Difference Between pickerel vs pike

The difference between pickerel vs pike is harder to spot since they are so similar. Again, size can help you on this matter. The pickerel fish is slightly smaller than pikes. They are lighter in color, though. Their body is between a lighter greenish and yellowish color, while the northern pike has a darker green color. Fins are a great thing to observe since pike fins are brownish or deep reddish, round and large-sized. On the other hand, the pickerel’s fins are smaller and paler, looking like a washed-out brown or orange.

Are Pike and Pickerel Related?

The two species of fish commonly referred to as pike are in fact, members of the perch family. Pike and pickerel are related, but they are not the same fish. Pike is a larger, more aggressive fish that can reach up to 72 inches (1.8 meters). Pickerel’s are smaller, less aggressive fish that typically range in size from 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 cm).

What is the Difference Between a Pickerel and a Muskie?

The difference between a pickerel and a muskie among the three species in this article is the easiest to spot. They are notably different in size, for example. A muskie fish is bigger than a pickerel.

The pickerel has fully scaled cheeks and gill plates, but the muskie does not. They are much darker in color since the muskie is the lighter fish in this comparison article. The muskie may not have skin patterns, but if they do, they are dark stripes, while the pattern on the pickerel’s skin is angler and whiter.

We hope you now know the difference between a pike vs. muskie. Check out some of our other related posts here:

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