Species Profile: Crappies

Crappie
JLFCapture / Getty Images

The crappie is a popular North American panfish related to the sunfish. The white crappie (Pomoxis annularis, pictured), and the black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) are very similar, and as a group, the crappie is a very popular fish, regarded as one of the best-tasting freshwater gamefish. The subspecies are often found schooling together, and most anglers cannot tell the difference when they catch one of each.

Because crappies are diverse feeders, fishermen find that many different fishing methods can be used to catch them, from casting with light jigs to trolling with minnows.  By day, crappies are somewhat being less active, concentrating in weeds and around submerged objects. They feed during dawn and dusk, moving out from cover into open water.

  • Description: Black and white crappie are the same colors, ranging from dark olive to black on top, with silvery sides and black blotches and stripes. The pattern of the dark blotches is different between the subspecies.  The spots are irregular and scattered on black crappie, while on the white crappie, seven to nine vertical stripes are clearly arranged. Black crappie have seven or eight dorsal spines, while white crappies have only six
  • Common names: Specks, White Perch, Sac-a-lait, Croppie, Papermouth, Slab.
  • Size: The world record black crappie is 5 lbs, and the record white crappie is 5 lbs, 3 oz. Most crappies are in the 1/2  to 1 lb. range. Some states have a 9- or 1-inch size limit on catching crappies.
  • Distribution: Their original habitat was the eastern U.S. into Canada but both subspecies have been stocked all over the U.S. and in many other countries. Black crappies need a slightly clearer, deeper lake or pond than the white crappie, but both species are found in ponds, lakes, and rivers. White crappies tend to hold in more shallow water than black crappies.
  • Feeding preferences:  Crappies feed mostly on small minnows and insects. The best baits for them are small minnows and jigs.
  • Spawning habits:  Crappies make beds in shallow water in the spring when the water temperatures reach the mid to upper 60s.
  • Attraction to light: Crappies are drawn to lights at night, where they feed on small fish that are attracted to the light. For this reason, they are a very popular fish to catch at night under lights.
  •  Life cycle: In warmer waters, crappie may grow three to five inches long during their first year. They can be seven to eight inches long at the end of the second year. They are mature in two to three years.
  • Habitat issues: Crappies are very prolific and will overpopulate a small lake very quickly. They can crowd out other species such as bass and cause both species to be stunted.