Are Muskies Good to Eat?

The muskie is a hard fighting sports fish in northern climates that is the obsessive Moby Dick-like bane of many a fisherman. These powerful freshwater sports fish are an obsession I’ve chased myself. Very hard fighters that are even harder to find, hook, and net – these do the pike family proud!

There are split opinions on how muskie tastes as a fish. Some anglers say it is too tough and bony while others love it. Generally speaking muskie is a bit fleshy and thick, very similar to northern pike in both taste and texture. If you like the taste of pike you’ll probably like muskie.

While muskie is a delicious fish when properly prepared (just like pike), there are a few things you want to keep in mind when preparing a muskie to eat.

Fisherman with big muskie fish
Picture courtesy of the Indiana DNR.

What Does Muskie Taste Like?

Muskie has a thick flesh that is known for being a tough fishy and chewy. Like big northern pike, its sometimes referred to as “fleshy” because the meat on the fillets are less thin and flaky like on many fish and thick, chewier, more meaty.

Many anglers prefer more traditional eating fish like trout, walleye, or perch. That’s fair. You can love the taste of well-prepared muskie and still prefer some of these other fish.

There’s a reason certain types of fish are known as traditionally good eating, after all!

Muskie has a strong flavor and because the flesh is denser than most fish, that fishy flavor does tend to be stronger. For many individuals this means muskie is an okay eating fish, though not great, however it is a fish that takes seasoning extremely well.

That means there are plenty of delicious recipes that can make muskie taste absolutely delicious, especially if properly prepared.

How Do You Prepare Muskie?

Muskie have the same Y-bone as pike. This is what trips up many anglers and would be camp chefs. If you treat this like a normal fish, it ends up extremely bony. That’s never a good thing with fish and ruins even the best taste.

If you tend to like the fish with a “meatier” or thicker flavor, ones that might be described as being “fleshy” then you’re going to like muskie in most conventional preparations.

I’m personally among this group, though at the same time there aren’t many fish that aren’t made better with lemon pepper and butter. If you don’t have lemon pepper black pepper is a good substitute, though I don’t think it’s quite as good.

If you hate “super fishy” fish then you will want to soak the fillets briefly in milk, which saps out some of that fishy flavor. This is an old trout fishing trick my grandpa taught me (RIP) and it works. It milds out that flavor which makes muskie more palatable for pickier eaters.

Muskie is also a fish that is often seen as a good choice for being used with heavy flavored recipes like Cajun stews, or tomato pastes. This can take care of the extra fishy flavor while still allowing you to enjoy what the muskie brings to the table as a good eating fish.

If you’re frying it, use something like olive oil which can infuse and enhance the flavors of a dish.

This article has three good muskie recipes worth taking a look at, as well, or go with a classic baked muskie recipe found here.

Why You Should Eat Muskie

There are several good reasons to eat muskie when the opportunity arises. It’s always a good time to go muskie fishing – you can decide whether these are good enough reasons to throw them in the pan instead of back in the water.

#1: Not Many Chances

Muskie take a very long time to spawn, mature, and get to spawning age. This means that there tend to be far fewer mature adults who then grow to any size. As one study of a large Wisconsin lake showed: there were about 50 adult muskies in a very large lake that also held 3,000 adult pike.

Most areas muskie are 100% catch and release or anglers are allowed to harvest only one a season and only of a certain size. That means you won’t get too many chances to enjoy the delicious muskie as a dish.

#2: Delicious

When you eat muskie from someone who knows how to prepare it, the fish is absolutely delicious.

A good meal of muskie will fill the stomach, let you say you’ve tasted this hard to catch freshwater fish, and feel full for the rest of the day. If you’re even luckier to get some leftovers, all the better!

#3: They Fight Themselves to Death

This is something really unique to the muskie in that they have a reputation as incredibly hard hitters. There are also MANY cases of a muskie fighting so hard it fights itself to death by the time you get it to the boat.

While this is sad, especially if you were going to release it, this is a part of muskie fishing. If you are in muskie country and fish for them long enough, eventually you’ll have one die on you.

In this case, wasting it is a terrible thing and it’s time to take the negative and turn it into a positive by making a meal. Of course, make sure you do this with all local ordinances and regulations in mind.

Ask a local park ranger if you aren’t sure what the procedure is in the event of a muskie dying during fight.

Why You Shouldn’t Eat Muskie

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to whether or not you should eat muskie.

#1: Native or Invasive?

One: are they native to the area or an invasive/introduced species. If they’re the latter, keeping them is a good for the local fishing ecosystem (assuming that’s allowed).

On the other hand, if muskie are native to the area then they are almost certainly protected with really strict limits.

#2: Scarcity

Muskies are an apex predator among freshwater fish, but they also take a very long time to grow. They take a very long time to get to spawning age, and because of that muskies are extremely rare compared to cousins like northern pike or pickerel.

Because of that many muskie anglers only practice catch and release even when they have a permit to harvest. This is up to the individual feelings and choices of the angler, but it’s worth considering, especially if it’s a large adult.

#3: Mercury Concerns

They are a top of the food chain fish, and muskie can get really big. Add in the fact that they have a voracious appetite and yeah, the mercury can really build up in big trophy sized muskie.

This is a genuine health concern, and is why the stomach meat is avoided by anglers carving up a big muskie. You want fillets from the other parts of the fish and that actually leaves plenty of tasty muskie meat.

#4: Do You Like the Taste of Pike?

Northern pike is probably the most common and widely eaten fish that compares to muskie. If you like the taste of pike or have recipes that make it delicious for you then it’s a safe bet you’ll like eating muskie.

Is it Legal to Eat Muskie?

Depends on state and territory. There are major restrictions on catching and keeping muskie in many places. In fact, many anglers assume that it is catch and release only unless otherwise told.

This is going to vary immensely from one location to another. You always need to check local regulations as state, county, and even local ordinances can change from season to season.

Any muskie angler needs to check in locally to see what the rules are.

So If You Can, Eat Up!

Look, you’re not going to be able to enjoy muskie nearly as often as pike just because of how tricky and hard to catch these fish are. Not to mention the large swath of areas where it’s straight up not allowed to eat them.

There aren’t many opportunities to eat muskie, especially guilt-free and prepared by an angler who knows how to cook them. If you get the chance, then I strongly recommend taking the time to enjoy a delicious dish made of this tough fighting freshwater fish.