Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) feeding habits and habitat preferences in Lake St. Clair

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) are an economically and ecologically important species. Yet, our understanding of their feeding habits and habitat preference is limited and incomplete. This study addressed these shortcomings with muskellunge in Lake St. Clair. Muskellunge were captured by trolling on charter boats and electrofishing. Feeding habits were determined by comparing fish consumed to abundance of fish in the lake. Habitat preference was determined by spatially analyzing collected fish catch-per-unit-effort and lake conditions such as depth and submerged aquatic vegetation coverage. Overall, 167 muskellunge were sampled and 77% of them had empty stomachs. White bass (Morone chrysops) was the most common found prey species in their diet. Moronidae was the family composing the largest portion of their diet. Muskellunge were more abundant in water with greater depth. The entire lake appears to have suitable coverage of submerged aquatic vegetation with an average of 67%. In conclusion, muskellunge consumed small amounts of the main sport fish species in Lake St. Clair and likely have minimal impacts on those populations. The majority of Lake St. Clair has the preferred habitat for muskellunge and is likely to be a contributing factor to their large population.