Are Muskie Good to Eat? And Is It Recommended?

Muskie, also known as muskellunge, are a species of freshwater fish in the pike family commonly found in various areas around North America. As a fish species known for their …

Muskie, also known as muskellunge, are a species of freshwater fish in the pike family commonly found in various areas around North America. As a fish species known for their aggressive nature and large size, muskie are a popular trophy fish among anglers looking for a predatory fish that puts up a good fight

Despite their popularity, there has been much debate over whether someone should eat muskie fish and whether or not it is recommended to eat muskie in most cases. In this article, we will take a closer look at the sometimes-controversial topic of cooking muskie, including their taste, nutritional value, and potential mercury risks.

Muskie Basics

muskie at night
The muskie is a large and aggressive fish popular among experienced anglers for their size and predatory behavior.

Description

The muskie fish species is a long and slender predatory species that is native to North America. It has a torpedo-shaped body that can grow up to 60 inches in length and can weigh over 60 pounds, though more commonly seen sizes range up to 30 inches and 20 pounds. 

The coloration of the muskie fish varies depending on the environment it inhabits, but it typically has a dark greenish-brown back, lighter greenish or brown sides, and a creamy white belly. It’s not uncommon to see muskie with various spotted, mottled, or striped patterns making them extremely attractive to look at.

The muskie fish has a large mouth full of sharp teeth, along with a flat head and tapered snout. Overall, the muskie is a formidable and impressive fish that is highly sought after by intermediate and experienced anglers.

Size

Muskie are an impressive freshwater fish that can grow to be quite large. The average muskie size ranges from 30 to 40 inches in length, and weighs between 20 and 30 pounds

However, they can grow much larger, with some specimens reaching up to 60 inches in length and weighing over 60 pounds. 

The adult size of the muskie game fish varies depending on several factors, including their habitat, available food sources, and genetics. Male muskie tend to be somewhat smaller than females, with a slimmer body and smaller head.

Feeding Behavior

Muskie are an apex predator that is known for their aggressive behavior, with a diet consisting mainly of other fish. They are known to feed on a variety of different species, such as trout, bass, perch, and northern pike. They are also known to prey on other aquatic creatures like crayfish, frogs, and even muskrats. 

Muskie are ambush predators and will strike their prey with great speed and sudden force that many anglers focus on catching. They usually lie in wait near underwater structures, including logs, weed beds, or rocks, and then suddenly lunge forward to grab their prey. 

Their sharp teeth and strong jaws make it easy for them to kill and consume fish almost as large as they are. Due to their predatory nature and their ability to put up a fierce fight when caught, these wonderful fish are a popular game fish among anglers with some intermediate and advanced fishing skills.

Should You Eat Muskie: Catch and Release or Keep?

Night fishing for muskie feature image
Anglers practice catch-and-release fishing for muskie to conserve their slow-growing and low-reproductive species.

While some anglers choose to keep their muskie and prepare it for consumption, others practice catch-and-release fishing to preserve this popular fish species and their natural habitats

Muskie are known for its large size and long lifespan, with some individuals living up to 30 years in northern climates such as the Great Lakes. Due to their slow growth and low reproductive rate, any healthy population of muskie are vulnerable to overfishing, making catch-and-release fishing important for the conservation efforts of these apex predators. 

However, if an angler decides to keep a muskie for consumption, it is essential to check local regulations and guidelines for size and bag limits, as well as any health advisories for contaminants such as mercury that may be present in the fish.

Some areas may strictly forbid catching muskie for harvest, while others will have rules on the length and weight you may keep of this native species.

Toxicity and Mercury?

Like many species of fish, muskies can contain mercury. This toxic heavy metal can have adverse effects on human health if large amounts of their white filleted flesh are consumed, making it risky when it comes to eating fish of certain sizes and species. 

Muskies, being at the top of the food chain, can accumulate more mercury in their flesh and meat than smaller fish living in the same waterway. The consumption of mercury-contaminated muskies can lead to neurological and developmental issues, particularly in pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children. 

If catching muskie to eat, it is important to limit the intake of their meat and the meat from other large predatory species, such as big pike, that may contain high levels of mercury. It is also recommended to check the local fishing advisories for information on safe consumption levels of muskies in your particular fishing area.

Preparing and Eating Muskie Safely

Muskie can be eaten safely if certain precautions are taken during the cleaning and cooking process. To start, it is important to remove all of the red or dark meat and organs, as this is where the largest amount of mercury can accumulate. 

It is also recommended to skin the muskie before cooking since toxins can be found in the fatty tissue just beneath the skin. When cooking the muskie, it is normally recommended to bake, broil, or grill the fish since these methods will allow excess fat to drain away. 

Aside from potential mercury contamination, it is important to cook the muskie to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any harmful bacteria or parasites. You should also limit the consumption of muskie meat to a few meals per month at most to avoid overexposure to toxins such as mercury.

Cleaning Muskie

Cleaning a muskie can be a bit challenging due to their abundance of narrow and thick bones and their tough skin. It is recommended that you use a filet knife, cutting board, and a pair of pliers to remove rib and pin bones. 

Here is a quick rundown on how to clean this freshwater species:

Start by scaling the fish, and be prepared to spend a bit of time here since muskies tend to have a large amount of scales. Hold the fish by the tail and use a scaling tool or the backside of a knife to scrape off the scales by starting at the tail and working your way toward the head.

After the scaling is complete, you should move into gutting the muskie. Make a cut on the underside of the fish from the anal vent to the gills, being careful not to cut too deep that you puncture the internal organs. Pull out the guts and discard them, as these can contain high concentrations of mercury.

Use a sharp filet knife to cut the muskellunge fillets from the head end down to the backbone. Turn the knife and cut along the backbone, keeping the blade as close to the bones as possible. Do the same on the other side of the fish to get two matched filets.

Use narrow-tipped pliers to pull out any fish bones that were missed during fileting. Be sure to remove all of the “Y” bones that run perpendicular to the filet, as well as any rib or pin bones that may be present.

Rinse the fish filets under cold water and pat them dry before deciding on how you would like to prepare them for cooking your next delicious meal.

Cooking Muskie: Three Recipes

Pan friend muskie eating

Pan-Fried Muskie

Ingredients:

  • 2 muskie filets
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil

Steps:

  1. In a shallow dish, mix the flour, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  2. Dredge each muskie filet in the flour mixture until coated evenly.
  3. Heat the oil in a large hot pan or skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Place the filets in the skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes per side or until golden brown and cooked through to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Serve hot with your choice of sides.
Grilled Muskie in Lemon Butter eating

Grilled Muskie with Lemon Butter

Ingredients:

  • 2 muskie filets
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter, minced garlic, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  3. Brush the butter mixture onto both sides of the muskie filets.
  4. Place the filets on the grill and cook for 5-6 minutes per side or until they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Serve hot with lemon wedges and your choice of sides.
Muskie Chowder eating

Muskie Chowder

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb muskie filets, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken or fish stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Steps:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and sauté for 5-6 minutes or until softened.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes, chicken or fish stock, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Add the muskie filet pieces and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.
  6. Stir in the heavy cream and heat through.
  7. Serve hot with crusty bread or oyster crackers.
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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.