Crappie are like that Chinese dog called a Shih Tzu. Most people don’t say the name of that dog in a way that sounds ﬂattering. Ditto for the poor crappie. If its name were pronounced by more folks as if it contained the letter o instead of a, as in crop, we would all be better off.
No matter how you pronounce the name, both the black crappie and the white crappie are the most distinctive and largest members of the Centrarchidae family, which includes sunfish and black bass. Both species are considered excellent food ﬁsh and sportﬁsh and have white, ﬂaky meat that makes for sweet ﬁllets. In many places crappie are plentiful, and creel limits are liberal, so it does no harm to keep a batch of these ﬁsh for the table.
IdentificationThe black crappie and the white crappie are similar in color—a silvery olive to bronze with dark spots, although on the black crappie the spots are irregularly arranged instead of appearing in seven or eight vertical bands, as they do on the white crappie. Both species are laterally compressed and deep-bodied, although the black crappie is somewhat deeper in body, and it has a large mouth that resembles the mouth of a largemouth bass.
It also has distinct depressions in its forehead and large dorsal and anal ﬁns of almost identical size. The gill cover comes to a sharp point, instead of ending in an earlike ﬂap. The best way to differentiate the two species of crappie is by counting the dorsal ﬁn spines, as the black crappie usually has seven or eight, the white crappie six.
The breeding male does not change color noticeably, as happens in the white crappie species. Size/Age. With lengths of up to 13 inches, the black crappie can weigh up to 5 pounds but usually weighs less than 2 pounds and is commonly caught at a pound or less. It is thought to live to 10 years of age. The all-tackle world record is a 4-pound, 8-ounce ﬁsh taken in Virginia in 1981.
Life history/BehaviorSpawning occurs in the early spring and the summer in water temperatures between 62° and 68°F. These ﬁsh spawn over gravel areas or other soft material and nest in colonies. The males excavate the nests, and the females lay the eggs, sometimes in several of these. The eggs incubate for 3 to 5 days, and the young mature sometime between their second and fourth years.
Food and feeding habitsBlack crappie tend to feed early in the morning on zooplankton, crustaceans, insects, ﬁsh, insect larvae, young shad, minnows, and small sunfish. Small minnows form a large part of the diet of adults; in southern reservoirs, gizzard or threadﬁn shad are the major forage, and in northern states, insects are dominant. Crappie also consume the fry of many species of gameﬁsh. They continue to feed during the winter and are very active under the ice.
Other Namesspeckled perch, calico bass, grass bass, speckled bass, strawberry bass, oswego bass, sacalait, barﬁsh, crawpie, bachelor perch, papermouth, shiner, moonﬁsh; French: marigane noire.
DistributionBlack crappie have been so widely introduced in North America that the native range is uncertain, although it appears to start at the Atlantic slope from Virginia to Florida, the Gulf slope west to Texas, and the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins from Quebec to Manitoba, Canada, south to the Gulf of Mexico.
HabitatBlack crappie prefer cooler, deeper, clearer waters with more abundant aquatic vegetation than do white crappie. This includes still backwater lakes, sloughs, creeks, streams, lakes, and ponds. Because crappie form schools, an angler who comes across one ﬁsh is likely to ﬁnd others nearby.
They are especially active in the evening and the early morning and remain active throughout the winter. An abundant species, black crappie occur in smaller concentrations than do white crappie.