Common name: Black crappie, White Crappie a.k.a. speckled perch, calico bass, grass bass, speckled bass, speckled perch, strawberry bass, oswego bass, sacalait, sacalaitt, barfish, crawpie, bachelor perch, papermouth, shiner, moonfish.
Scientific name: Black Crappie = Pomoxis nigromaculatus (Pomoxis means “sharp opercle (cheek)”; nigromaculatus means “black spotted”), White Crappie = (Pomoxis annularis)
Appearance: The body of a black crappie features dense, black splotches against a silvery-green to yellowish backdrop, which cover their large fins as well. Black Crappies have short bodies, small heads, sharply curving backs, and upper jaws that extend beneath the eye.
White crappie are distinguishable from black crappie by a lack of spots on their silver, bluegreen-tinted bodies. Instead, they are marked by several dark stripes running vertically.White crappie also have a distinctive depression above their eyes, which black crappie do not share.
Distribution: A great-tasting panfish native to the Southeastern United States, crappie have since been introduced everywhere from Manitoba to Mexico. The greatest danger to the crappie population is the propensity of mature crappies to eat their young, a problem that fishermen help to alleviate by catching and cooking large numbers of adults before they can decimate the next generation. For this reason, many biologists are calling for a removal of all limits on crappie fishing.
Spawning: Crappie spawn towards the end of spring / beginning of summer, at temperatures at or above 65ºF. A female will lay tens of thousands of eggs in a shallow nest that the male scrapes into the bottom, in depths no greater than 6’. After the eggs are fertilized, the male will defend them ferociously until they hatch, at which point the parents will immediately turn around and begin eating their offspring. Those that escape will reach 2-3 inches within a year, then continue to grow to a full mature size of up to 9 inches in their second year.
It’s worth noting that white crappie males darken during the spawn, to the point where they can be mistaken for black crappie. Black crappie males do not undergo any color change.
Angling: A fun, light-tackle gamefish in the spring and fall months and a popular ice-fishing quarry in winter, crappie spend most of the day hiding in deep-water weed beds, venturing into the shallows in large schools to feed around sunrise and sunset. Black crappie prefer clear, cool water in lakes, whereas white crappie tend to be found in murkier, mud-bottomed creek pools and slow-moving streams. Even while feeding, crappie will stick close to structure (rocks, weeds, logs, drop-offs). The spring spawn is the best time to catch numbers of crappie, as they move into the shallows en masse. Summertime sees a lull in crappie action, as the fish are able to find plenty of forage near their deep-water hideouts and go into shallow water less frequently. Fall sees a resumption of their shallow-water feeding, with the fish remaining active throughout the winter.
Ultra-light spinning gear is the wisest choice for crappie fishing in the warm months, otherwise a light tip-up in the winter. The best baits for crappie are small minnows, small maribou-covered jigs, plastic minnows, or small streamer flies, which should be cast along promising structure (weedlines being the best bet) and kept moving constantly. If you have reason to believe crappie are hiding in a weed bed or brush pile but aren’t biting, try agitating it with an oar then cast again.
Extremely gentle biters, a fisherman out for crappie should start reeling in at the slightest hint of a tug. Care must be taken in boating the fish so as not to damage the crappie’s extremely tender mouth. Crappie fillets are white, flaky, and delicious, and can be cooked in a variety of ways.