A member of the Esocidae family, the tiger muskellunge is a distinctively marked hybrid fish produced when true muskellunge (E. masquinongy) and northern pike (Esox lucius) interbreed. This occurs when the male of either species fertilizes the eggs of the female of the opposite species. This is not a common occurrence in the wild but has happened naturally in waters where both parent species occur, making it an unusual and prized catch.
The tiger muskie was believed to be a separate species until scientists succeeded in crossing a northern pike with a muskellunge, thereby discovering the tiger muskie’s true origin. Deliberate crossbreeding of these species in hatcheries by ﬁsheries managers is now much more common than is natural hybridization, and tiger muskies have been stocked in many waters where neither parent occurs naturally. Fish culturists prefer to cross a male northern pike with a female muskellunge because the eggs of the muskie are less adhesive and don’t clump as badly in the hatching process.
Populations of introduced tiger muskies are naturally self-limiting because this hybrid is sterile and cannot reproduce itself. Its numbers can therefore be controlled over time. It also grows quickly and is aggressive, making it an excellent catch for anglers.
The tiger muskie has a distinctive look and should not be confused with the true muskellunge, which has been called a tiger muskie in some areas. In most respects, notably in size and appearance, the hybrid is very much like the true muskellunge, and anglers hold the naturally occurring hybrid in higher esteem than the true muskie because of its rarity, its beautiful markings, and its game nature.
The true muskie may have either bars or spots on the sides or no markings at all, but it is rarely as strikingly beautiful as the tiger muskie, which has dark, wavering tigerlike stripes or bars, many of them broken, that are set against a lighter background.
As is true with many hybrid ﬁsh, the body of the tiger muskie is slightly deeper than that of either comparable-length parent. The cheeks and jaws are usually spotted, with 10 to 16 pores existing on the underside of the jaws. The tips of the tail are more rounded than in the true muskie, and the ﬁns have distinct spots. In very large specimens, the ﬁns, especially the tail ﬁns, appear to be much larger than for a comparable true muskie.
Naturally occurring tiger muskies in excess of 30 pounds are extremely rare, and most have come from Wisconsin lakes. A 51-pound, 3-ounce ﬁsh, caught in 1919 at Lac Vieux Desert on the Wisconsin/Michigan border, is the all-tackle world-record tiger muskie. For a time, it was thought to be a true muskellunge and thus held the world record for that species.
Methods of ﬁshing for tiger muskies are no different than those for true muskies. Naturally occurring tiger muskies are caught incidentally by anglers ﬁshing for true muskellunge or other ﬁsh species. Introduced muskies are caught as both targeted and incidental catches. Most are released alive, particularly those of natural origin.