Members of the Centrarchidae family, which includes sunﬁsh and black bass, white crappie are usually thought of in the same breath as black crappie. 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 white crappie and the black crappie are essentially the same color, a silvery olive to bronze with dark spots, although the white crappie is somewhat paler; in the white crappie the spots are arranged in seven or eight vertical bands on its sides, whereas in the black crappie the spots are scattered.
Deep-bodied and laterally compressed, the white crappie has a large mouth, an upper jaw that extends under the eye, and a lower jaw that seems to protrude. It also has distinct depressions in its forehead and large dorsal and anal ﬁns of almost identical size.
The best way to differentiate these fish is by counting dorsal fin spines, as the white crappie has six, and the black crappie usually has seven or eight. The white crappie is also the only sunﬁsh with the same number of spines in both the dorsal and the anal ﬁns. The breeding male grows darker in color and is often mistaken for the black crappie.
Size/AgeThe white crappie can reach a weight of 5 pounds but usually weighs less than 2 pounds and is commonly caught at a pound or less. The all-tackle world record is a 5-pound, 3-ounce ﬁsh taken in Mississippi in 1957. White crappie live for a maximum of 10 years.
Spawning behaviorSpawning occurs in the early spring and the summer in water temperatures between 62° and 68°F, and during that time the male grows dark on the sides of its head, lower jaw, and breast. Spawning takes place in sandy, muddy, and weedy areas, and the ﬁsh nest in colonies. In moderately deep water, the male brushes away sediment to form a shallow nest and guards the 27,000 to more than 68,000 eggs. The eggs incubate for 2 to 4 days, and the young white crappie mature in 2 to 4 years.
Food and feeding habitsWhite crappie feed on small crustaceans, zooplankton, insects and insect larvae, minnows, young shad, small sunﬁsh, and other small ﬁsh. Small minnows of many species are probably the most common food item for adults.
Other Namescrappie, speckled perch, speckled bass, calico bass, sacalait, papermouth, bachelor perch; French: crapet calicot.
DistributionWidespread in North America, white crappie are found in the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, the Mississippi River basins from New York and Ontario west to Minnesota and South Dakota and south to the Gulf of Mexico; they also inhabit the Gulf of Mexico drainages from Mobile Bay in Georgia and Alabama to the Nueces River in Texas. They have been introduced widely elsewhere.
HabitatWhite crappie occur in creek backwaters, slow-ﬂowing streams, sand and mud-bottomed pools, small to large rivers, and lakes and ponds. They prefer shallower water than do the black crappie and can tolerate warmer, more turbid, and slightly alkaline waters.
They are usually found near dropoffs, standing timber, brushy cover, or other artiﬁcial cover. Because white crappie school in loose groups, when an angler catches one, others are likely to be around. They are especially active in the evening and the early morning and remain active throughout the winter.