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The Muskellunge differs from other pikes in having the upper half of the cheeks and opercles lightly scaled and the lower portion of these parts scaleless. The lower jaw has a row of 6 to 9 pores along each side. There are 16 to 19 branchiostegal rays, usually 19 rays in the dorsal fin, and 147 to 155 cycloid scales along the lateral line. The color of Muskellunge varies; it is usually olive to dark gray with dark over markings on the sides. When present, these markings will have dark spots or bars on a light background.
Muskies have been stocked regularly into Brushy Creek, Pleasant Creek, Big Creek, Three Mile, Lake Macbride, Clear Lake, West Okoboji, and Big Spirit since the 1990s. Muskies can also be found in East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, and Lake Minnewashta due to their connection to West Okoboji, and occasionally below Red Rock and Saylorville Reservoirs due to their connections to Big Creek and Brushy Creek. Black Hawk Lake and Lost Grove Lake were stocked with muskies in 2013.
Muskellunge are strictly carnivorous. They eat mostly other fishes such as perch, suckers and shiners. The first food of young Muskellunge is zooplankton, but after a few days of life fish are eaten. It also feeds extensively on frogs, crayfish and large water insects and has been known to devour ducklings, shore birds and even young aquatic mammals.
50 pounds, 6 ounces - Spirit Lake, Dickinson County, September August 2000 - Kevin Cardwell, Spirit Lake, Iowa
Some fishermen have termed musky the fish of 1,000 casts. Musky are world famous for their difficulty to hook and successfully land. Be patient and use BIG lures.
Before 1960, only a few Muskellunge had been collected in Iowa fish surveys. Three were reported in the Mississippi River, one each near Lansing and Harpers Ferry in Allamakee County in 1935 and one in Muscatine County near Muscatine in 1892. Single fish were collected from the Skunk River near Ames in Story County in 1892 and in Clear Lake in 1945. The latter was probably transplanted from the Mississippi River during fish rescue activities.
In 1960, the first purebred musky were stocked into Iowa waters. Fry were obtained from Wisconsin, reared at the Decorah trout hatchery, and 40 fish each were stocked into Clear Lake and West Lake Okoboji. The program has continued with annual stockings of about 5,000 fish, 6- to 10-inches long, into Clear Lake, West Lake Okoboji and Big Spirit Lake. Musky were also introduced into Big Creek Lake and Rathbun Lake in the 1970`s, but the practice was stopped after two or three years in favor of hybrid musky.
Muskellunge spawn in early spring, several weeks later than Northern Pike. In northern states they usually spawn in tributary streams and shallow lake channels rather than in flooded marshes and swamps preferred by Northern Pike. Like all members of the pike family, they simply scatter their eggs unattended over the bottom. The eggs are small, averaging about 75,000 to the quart. Incubation is completed in 12 to 15 days in water from 50 to 55 degrees F. A female, 36- to 46-inches long, produces up to 164,000 eggs. The average range is about 20,000 to 165,000 eggs, but female fish weighing 40 pounds can produce as many as 225,000 eggs. These fish are not long-lived and usually die before reaching age 12. A recent age and growth study for musky conducted on West Lake Okoboji showed the growth averaged 12.8-inches at age 1, 35.7-inches at age 5, and 46-inches at age 11.
Only a few bodies of water in Iowa are suitable for the development and continuation of a successful musky program. The fishery, therefore, will remain very limited in our state, but where it is present it will continue to capture the very heart and soul of those fishermen purist looking for a truly memorable fishing experience.