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Muskie, Muskellunge, Musky, Esox masquinongy

The first time I encountered a muskie, underwater, on its own turf underwater, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. While on scuba in a small northern Wisconsin lake known primarily for bass and bluegill, I suddenly found myself face to face with a freshwater monster, the apex predator of the Great Lakes. To say I was startled would be an understatement. Screaming at the top of my lungs, a volcanic eruption of bubbles spewed from my regulator. My arms and legs thrashed involuntarily in a panic, creating a Mt. St. Helens sized cloud of silt that quickly enveloped both musky and human.

muskellunge, muskie, underwater, photo, picture
muskellunge, muskie, underwater

After recovering my sanity, I realized the giant muskellunge hadn't moved an inch. It was still there, only three feet away, hanging motionless in the slowly clearing water. In stark contrast to this underwater fish photographer's initial horror, the muskellunge had the calm demeanor of a Buddhist monk. This was a freshwater fish filled with confidence instead of fear, at home in its element. The muskellunge was the king of its underwater castle, regarding me with the same sense of apathy I normally reserve for telemarketers and late night TV pitchmen. I was left in awe as the muskie gently finned its way to the depths.

muskie, musky, Esox masquinongy
muskie, musky, Esox masquinongy

muskellunge, muskie, musky
muskellunge, muskie, musky


One attribute of water is that when viewed through a prism of air, also known as a diver's mask, objects appear much larger than they really are! A 45 inch musky looks more like a 60 inch whopper! Fishermen often ask me how big my muskys are. Honestly, most fish look big underwater, and big fish look like Godzilla! For the first few years, I got really pumped with each muskie encounter, thinking to self, "Wow! that's gotta be a world record!"
Many scuba dives later, I've come to better understand the illusion, and realize that reports of 6 foot muskie monsters swimming by fishing boats are just ordinary sized fish. Some may argue that a fish lined up exactly with something on the boat that's of known size and reference, but the viewer doesn't understand the illusion facing scuba divers all the time.
Boats and the objects on them are poor comparison tools as they're in the atmosphere, visually accurate in size, while the musky is underwater, distorted in size. To test this concept yourself, measure your hand. Then lean over the side of a fishing boat or dock and stick it about a foot underwater. Hold the ruler above the surface while viewing your submersed hand, and measure it best you can. How'd the numbers come out? If you did this correctly, your dry hand will be roughly the underwater hand size.

muskellunge, muskie, musky, underwater
muskellunge, muskie, musky, underwater

muskellunge, Esox masquinongy
muskellunge, Esox masquinongy

muskie, musky, game fish, underwater
musky, game fish, underwater


Recently, I was taking pictures at Lake Tomahawk in Vilas County, Wisconsin. There I came across a pair of muskies engaged in spawning activity. It was a dark and rainy afternoon so the light was pretty crumby for underwater fish photography. While I didn't get any new muskellunge pictures, the activity was fascinating to observe. It also gave me a chance to ponder the super sized fish illusion. This particular musky male was unremarkable, as he was dwarfed by his female partner. She was a real beauty though, enormous looking underwater, with a body girth reminding me of watermelons that win ribbons at the county fair. She swam right next to me, when I made a perceived, but distorted size comparison. I'm five feet, eight inches tall, and the female musky looked like she was longer than I was! Was this a for-real 6 foot muskie? Nope. After some quick arithmetic, I calculated that her perceived 70 inches had to be more like 50, or the length I was "seeing" her. Regardless, she was a trophy fish in my book.

Eric Engbretson / CritterZone.com




underwater game fish photography, photographer
underwater game fish photography

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