What is a Crappie & How to Identify Them? (Fishing for Crappie)

Crappies are members of the sunfish family and they are one of the biggest panfish you can catch. The male crappie, are the ones which build the nest and guards the eggs and young.

Although not as popular as the largemouth bass or rainbow trout, crappies are a highly prized game fish.

Crappies have the distinction of being among the most palatable species of freshwater fishes. Their flesh is light-colored and has very little of the “fishy” flavor, which some people find distasteful.

The crappie species are a highly regarded pan fish and are often considered to be among the best-tasting freshwater fish. Crappie may be caught in many ways because they have diverse diets,

These will include casting light jigs, trolling with minnows, artificial lures, using small spinnerbaits, using bobbers or my favorite casting flies.

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How do You Identify Crappie?

The most analytical characteristic is to count the rigid spines of the dorsal fin, A white crappie will have 5 to 6 spines. Black crappie will have 7 to 8 spines.

Here is a video to show you how to identify black crappie from white crappie.

How Many Types of Crappie are There?

There are two species found throughout North America they are the black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis).

They are both members of the sunfish family, which also includes largemouth bass and bluegill. Crappies are two of the largest of all of the panfish species.

Black Crappie

Black Crappie

Just like many of the popular sport fish, the range of the black crappie has been greatly expanded through stocking.

Its original range covered most of the eastern half of the United States, excluding the eastern coastal region from Virginia northward through New England.

As a result of introductions, the black crappie presently may be found throughout much of the U.S. including the northeastern seaboard and in the west.

Black Crappie Habitat

The black crappie has a distinct preference for clear water, while the related white crappie has no such preference.

The black crappie appears to prefer areas with an abundance of aquatic vegetative cover with sand and mud bottoms.

Places like many of the ponds, lakes, streams, and sloughs.

They may also be present in reservoirs if the preferred habitat preferences are present.

Black Crappie Spawn

Black crappies spawn during the spring and summer months of March to July, depending upon water temperatures and latitudes.

Female crappies may produce up to 188,000 eggs with an average number of approximately 40,000, depending on the size and age of the female.

The eggs are spherical with a single oil globule. Each egg measures approximately 0.93mm in diameter.

Nests are made by the male on areas of sand, gravel, or mud in close proximity to shoreline vegetation.

After the eggs are laid, the male guards the nest until the eggs hatch, usually within 2-3 days.

Newly hatched larvae measure approximately 2.32 mm in length and appear translucent with very little pigmentation.

They remain in the nest, under the protection of the male for a period of several days. Upon leaving the nest, the larvae move to quiet, shallow, vegetated water and take shelter from predators.


Larger fish are potential predators of the black crappie. Fish-eating aquatic insects along with a host of other predators will likely prey upon young black crappie.

White Crappie

White Crappie

The white crappie is native throughout the eastern half of Canada and the United States and has been widely introduced in the west as well.

White crappie is actually a member of the sunfish family and can be found in all the continental states. They normally are in large schools and are found throughout most of the U.S. and into Canada.

White Crappie Habitat

White crappies are most abundant in larger reservoirs and freshwater lakes. But they are also found in smaller ponds and in slow-moving streams and rivers, usually over sand or mud bottoms.

They prefer shallower waters and are not usually found deeper than the thermocline. In most areas, they are found no deeper than 5 m during the breeding season and move to only somewhat deeper water (6 to 10 m) in the winter.

They prefer cool waters but are tolerant of a range of temperatures. Similar to the black crappie they prefer and grow best in clear waters, but can also live in moderately turbid waters.

In regions where both white and black crappies are present, white crappies tend to be found in more turbid and warmer waters. They do best in waters with a neutral-to-basic pH range.

White crappies can survive in waters with lower oxygen levels than black crappie. They can be found in waters with a lot of cover.

The cover is important for protection against predators, and they gather around submerged rocks and woody debris, and in or near stands of underwater plants

White Crappie Spawn

White crappies are polygynandrous and spawn in late spring or early summer (varies with local climate and water temperature).

A white crappie female holds as many as 232,000 eggs but does not release them all in one spawn. The average nest holds 27,000 to 68,000 eggs from six to twelve spawnings.

The eggs are 0.89 mm in diameter and stick to the bottom of the nest. After the eggs are fertilized, it takes the eggs about 42 hours to hatch in warmer temperatures and 103 hours to hatch in cooler temperatures.

Males are first to arrive in the spawning area and make nests in shallow water in places where there is a cover for their protection.

Males push out depressions in the mud, sand, clay, or gravel of the bank with their fins and construct a nest about 30 cm in diameter. They surround the nest with twigs for additional cover.

Nests are arranged in colonies, but the males are protective of their nest and are aggressive towards other males. Males will chase away intruders and bite them or push them out.

They will even show aggression towards females until the females act submissively and do not swim away. They then lead females to the nest so the females can lay their eggs.

Then like the black crappie, they protect the newly hatched eggs from predators. They have the same predators as the black crappie.

Other Names for Crappie

Did you know that crappies are also called Paper mouths, strawberry bass, speckled bass or specks (especially in Michigan), speckled perch, white perch, crappie bass, calico bass, (throughout the Middle Atlantic states, and New England), and sac-a-lait (in Louisiana) which translates to “bag of milk”

They are so esteemed for their mild, sweet flesh that the Louisiana legislature has declared them the official state freshwater fish.

The Seasons For Crappie Fishing

man holding Crappie fish


During the spring and early summer is when the fish will spawn, which is usually between the months of March and July.

However, in the warmer southern states spawning has been known to happen as early as February.

It is during this spawning season that the crappie enters the shallower areas of water, usually between 1 and 5 ft deep.

The males will leave the deeper water first, entering the shallows to dig out a nest close to vegetation.

It is during this time that the males will be easier to catch; once you’ve located their nests, of course.


When the height of summer hits, this is often when the crappie will head back out to the deeper water, away from their shallow nesting sites.

It is during these warmer months that the best time for crappie fishing will be during twilight hours or during the night when they will come closer to the surface in order to feed.

Summer can be a particularly difficult time to catch this species and will often require patience, possibly trolling and the use of electronic devices.

Things such as fish finders, and depth gauges to find the underwater structures where there might be some hiding out and keeping cool.

crappie hooked and being reeled in with bait in it's mouth


Finding the species in the fall can be difficult, as the water temperatures are generally the same at all depths, making it trickier to know where the fish will be.

The bait that you use will determine how productive your fishing trip in the fall will be.

In the fall the fish are preparing for winter and a lack of food sources. They will generally be looking for minnows and this can be a good time to lure them in using minnows as bait.

You may have more luck fishing at night during the fall, when the crappie, come nearer to the shallows during their regular feeding time.


Winter can be a great time for crappie fishing, as they do not appear to go into a state of semi-hibernation.

This means they can be very active during the colder winter months, which makes them an ideal catch if you’re heading out fishing.

Areas of water with southern exposure will be the warmest and this is likely where the most fish will be hiding out.

Ice Fishing for Crappie

It’s possible to go ice fishing for crappie but you will probably find you’ll need some kind of sonar equipment if you have any hopes of catching anything.

Combine your sonar with your knowledge of possible locations for them, such as near weeds or drop-off points, in order to find a suitable place to start drilling your holes.

crappie hooked and being reeled in with bait in it's mouth

Best Time to Catch Crappie

Evening and Early Morning

The amount of fish you’ll catch will normally depend on the time of day and whether they’re active. In the case of crappie, the best time to catch them is during their feeding time.

This is most frequently between the hours of midnight and 2 am.

Additionally, during dawn and dusk can be good times to catch them, with many of them also feeding during these twilight hours.

It is when they are feeding that they will come into the shallower areas looking for minnows and insects. So casting your bait at this time could make it more likely that they will bite.

During the Day

During the daylight hours, they tend to remain in the deeper areas of water, which could make them more difficult to catch, depending on the time of year.

However, during the spawning season, the males guard their nests in the shallows, defensively attacking anything that might threaten the eggs.

This can be a good time to catch one without too much trouble.

When you are fishing in the winter months, the afternoon can be a good time to fish.

Because that is when the water temperatures will be at their warmest and when the fish will go to the surface to find food.

Crappie Commercial Fishing

Before the state’s fisheries departments began to implement a more restrictive, and conservation-minded regulation.

There were a great number of crappies, especially in the Mississippi River states, that were harvested commercially in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

At one point the annual crappie catch sold at fish markets in the United States was reported to be approximately three million pounds.

There was a commercial fishery for crappies that existed at the Reelfoot Lake in Northwestern Tennessee until 2003. This was one of the last commercial fisheries for crappies in recent decades.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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