Gamefish Profile: the Crappie

Crappie
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The crappie (sometimes mistakenly spelled crappy) is a popular North American panfish related to the sunfish. There are two closely related species: the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis), and the black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus). As a group, crappies are very popular among fishermen, regarded as one of the best-tasting freshwater gamefish. The subspecies are often found schooling together, and most anglers cannot tell the difference between the two species. Crappies are known by different names regionally, including specks, white perch, sac-a-lait, croppie, papermouth, and slab.

Description

Despite the names, black and white crappies are similar in color, 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. On the black crappie, the spots are irregular and scattered, 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. 

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 lb.  to 1 lb. range. Some states have a 9- or 10-inch upper-end size limit on keeping crappies that are caught.

Distribution, Habitat, and Behavior

Their original habitat of the crappie 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 can be found in ponds, lakes, and rivers. White crappies tend to hold in shallower water than black crappies.

During the day, crappies are less active and congregate around weed beds and submerged logs and boulders. They feed mostly dawn and dusk, in dim light, when they move into the open and toward shore. 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. Crappies feed mostly on small minnows and smaller fish species, including the young of the same species that prey on crappies, such as walleye, muskellunge, and pike. They also feed on crustaceans and insects. 

Lifecycle and Spawning

To spawn, crappies make beds in shallow water in the spring when the water temperatures reach the mid- to upper-60s (Fahrenheit). In warmer waters, crappie may grow 3 to 5 inches long during their first year, reaching 7 to 8 inches by the end of the second year. Crappies mature in two to three years.

Crappies are very prolific breeders and can overpopulate a small lake very quickly. Their fondness for feeding on the young of other desirable game species can stunt populations of those species. State natural resource authorities typically set catch limits quite high in order to control populations. 

Tips for Catching Crappies

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. The best times to catch crappies is during their normal feeding times, near dawn or dusk. Night fishing using lights to draw in crappies is another favorite strategy.