Differences Between a Muskie & Northern Pike

by Richard Corrigan
Northern pike coloration features light spots on a dark background.

Northern pike coloration features light spots on a dark background.

Northern pike share habitat with muskellunge -- often referred to as muskie -- in many lakes and rivers across North America. Similarities between these related fish species can make identification difficult for anglers, but a few key physical characteristics make it simple to tell the difference.

Differences in Color

Of the two species, northern pike exhibit the least amount of color variation, with white or light yellow oval-shaped markings on a darker green background. Unlike pike, muskie display dark markings on a light background, but these markings may appear in the form of either spots or vertical bars. The visibility of markings on muskie vary widely, with some individuals displaying clear markings while others lack markings altogether,

Fins, Scales and Pores

In addition to color, several other clues give away the identity of pike and muskie. The paired fins on the lower body of a northern pike are rounded in shape, as is the tail fin. These fins on muskie have more distinct points. Northern pike also have fully scaled cheek plates, while the cheeks of muskie are scaled only on the upper half. Another distinguishing feature can be seen on the underside of the lower jaw; northern pike have fewer than five pores on either side of the jaw, while muskie have six to nine.

About the Author

Richard Corrigan has been a full-time professional writer since 2010. His areas of expertise include travel, sports and recreation, gardening, landscaping and the outdoors. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from SUNY Geneseo in 2009.

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