A crappie is a crappie, right? Well, yes and no. While all crappie belong to the sunfish family Centrarchidae and the genus Pomoxis, there are actually seven different species of crappie recognized by the IGFA. Key differences between the fish are related to physical markings. Often, crappie anglers are shocked to discover that black and white crappie are distinctly different species. This article will help you learn the differences between these two species, as these are the most common varieties.
Basic Crappie Info
All crappie are members of the sunfish family, the same scientific family as bluegill and bass. Crappie are a much sought after game fish because of the thrill of the catch and the sweet taste of the white, flaky meat. Both the white and black crappie live in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, and reservoirs throughout the United States and other parts of the world. Crappie angling is one of the fastest growing sports among recreational fishermen. According to the USFWS, crappie fishing has increased over 20% in the last ten years. So, what makes these fish so desirable, and are there noticeable differences between the black and white crappie?
Black crappie, Pomoxis Nigromaculatus, are named for their dark colored bodies, but can actually be lighter in color than white crappie in certain water conditions. It is not the color, but the pattern that helps distinguish white and black crappies.
Black Crappie Size
Black crappie grow at a rate of up to four inches per year. The most rapid growth takes place in their first two years of life, and adult black crappies rarely reach lengths over 10″. Female and male crappies grow to the same length and there is no way to tell the difference based on length.
Black crappie distribution within the US
Black crappie are populous in the warmer waters of the United States. Along the Atlantic coast, they can be found in freshwater lakes, small ponds, and river backwaters from Virginia south to Florida. The warm waters of the Southern US are also popular crappie habitats, with a large black crappie population being found in freshwater bodies from Florida to Texas. Black crappie also appear in Wisconsin, Illinois, and parts of Michigan.
Black crappie weigh about two pounds at adulthood, although some larger specimens have been recorded. The IGFA world record black crappie weighed 5 pounds 7 ounces. This atypical fish was found in a freshwater pond in Tennessee.
Black crappie feed primarily on small invertebrates for the first six months of their lives. Worms, bugs, and tadpoles are popular foods for black crappie. Young crappie will also feed on zooplankton and algae that occurs in areas of heavy vegetation.
The male black crappie will dig out sand beds 2-6 feet of water, when water temperatures rise to over 68°. He will then guard his nest for two to three days before allowing a female black crappie to deposit her eggs. During reproduction, spawning black crappies can lay around 11,000 eggs at a time.
Black crappies prefer clear waters with sand bottoms. They rarely venture into open water and tend to hide in areas with thick vegetation. This can include thick weeds, or fallen debris. Black crappies will also hang out within structures such as rock clusters and sunken Christmas trees. Black crappies, on the whole, do not travel as deep as white crappie. In hot weather, black crappies will leave the cover of the thick weeds and move into 5-9 feet of water.
Black crappies can live to be up to seven years old.
Eating black crappie
Black crappie has delicate, flavorful meat that is white and flaky when properly cooked. Pan-fried crappie is considered a delicacy in the southern United States.
White crappie and black crappie look the same to the untrained eye. It is hard to tell the difference unless you know exactly what to look for. The most obvious difference is the markings on the body. Other key differences include the number of needle like spines on the dorsal fin and the shape of the mouth.
White Crappie Size
The male white crappie and female white crappie are roughly the same size. They can reach lengths of 9-15 inches and average growth rate is 3 to 4 inches per year. The IGFA white crappie fishing record is a fish measuring 21 inches in length and weighing over 5 pounds.
White Crappie Distribution within the US
White crappies can be found along the Atlantic Coast and in the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Studies have located more white crappie in large rivers and streams, compared to black crappie in the same water bodies. Both species have been located in freshwater reservoirs and lakes in Florida, Alabama, and Texas.
The average weight for adult white crappies is about four pounds. The current IGFA world record white crappie weighed just over 5 pounds.
White crappies will feed on bugs and invertebrates when they are young, but larger white crappies tend to alter their diet to include more minnows and small fish. Black crappie, even as adults, continue to feed on insects, so the white crappies diet of fish might be in part due to its larger mouth.
The male fish prepares a nest on the muddy bottom near the banks of the river. Usually, this nest is in one to four feet of water. The female settles into the nest and lays around 9,000 eggs, which the male then fertilizes. The male guards the nest until the fry move into open water in large schools.
In terms of life expectancy, white crappie can live up to nine years.
White crappie are social fish and tend to swim in schools. They inhabit fresh water reservoirs, and large rivers and lakes. They prefer to be out in open water, unlike the black crappie that hides in cover.
Eating white crappie
White crappie fillets are delicious, and many connoisseurs say white crappie is sweeter than black crappie. This could partially be attributed to the differences in diet between the two species.
Black Crappie vs White Crappie (The Differences)
Both black and white crappie have a silvery grey body, with dark markings scattered over the body and fins. It is the pattern of these markings that identifies the two crappie species.
Body Markings Of White and Black Crappie
An adult black crappie has a silvery-greenish tint to its body with an irregular pattern of numerous black spots. There is not a regular pattern to these darker body markings, and some black crappie will have more spots than others.
White crappie tend to be lighter in color but their markings are the key difference that discerns white crappie vs black crappie. The natural markings on white crappies appear as vertical bars running down the sides of the body. These are more identifiable as a pattern than the random dark spots on the black crappie.
Both male and female crappie have similar markings, and there is no evident difference in coloring between males and females, except during spawning season. During spawning, the belly of the male crappie will turn black. The female will remain her natural color, but her belly will be bloated with eggs.
White crappies tend to be longer and more streamlined than the shorter, rounded black crappie. White crappies reach lengths of 9-15 inches at maturity. Black crappies reach lengths of 5-10 inches at maturity. The body shape of the white and black crappies also differs. The white crappie is more football or oval shaped. The black crappies have a pan shaped, flatter body.
Because coloring alone is not the best indicator of crappie species, dorsal fin examination is the most reliable method of identification when determining white crappie vs black crappie. White crappie will have five or six dorsal spines, whereas black crappie have seven or eight spines along the dorsal fin.
Another difference is the location of the dorsal fins. The dorsal fin of the black crappie appears farther forward on the body than the dorsal fin of the white crappie. Because the black crappie is a smaller fish, overall, this creates the illusion of a larger, longer fin on the black fish’s body.
Both species are freshwater fish. White crappie prefer open water and are equally at home in clear water or muddy water. Black crappies prefer clear waters to murky waters. Black crappies also hide in vegetation more than white crappies.
One subtle difference between white crappie vs black crappie is the size and shape of the mouth. White crappies have slightly larger mouths. The nose of white crappies is more pointed that black crappies.
Distribution in the US
You can find white crappies in the warm waters of the lower United States. Black crappie have been found more plentiful in lakes and ponds, while white seem more populous in rivers and streams, but both species can be found in the same water body, along with many other fish.
Final thoughts on black and white crappie
Members of the same family, but distinctly different species, black and white crappie are largely similar. The markings on white crappie and black crappie differ because white crappie has brighter stripes of marks that resemble vertical bars. Black crappie have random spots all over the body, like a dalmation dog. White crappies grow a bit larger, but the black crappie is more aggressive. The smaller fish is a fierce protector of the nest and will attack anything that intrudes its space. Black crappies are also more solitary, while white crappies prefer company. White crappie may gather in large schools in open water, while black crappies like to hide.
As far as crappie anglers are concerned, both species are desired. These small fish are easily found in freshwater reservoirs, large rivers, and naturally occurring lakes and ponds. Catching crappie is exciting, and both white and black crappie are easily caught using live bait or jigs.