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Wildlife Mississippi Magazine

Spring/Summer 2002

Species Profile: Crappie

Crappie are the third most popular freshwater fish in Mississippi, behind bass and catfish. In Mississippi, crappie is referred to as white perch, but in Louisiana they are known as "sac-a-lait."

Crappie are members of the Sunfish Family. This Family includes such other popular game fish as bluegill, redear or shellcrackers, smallmouth bass, spotted bass and largemouth bass. Warmouth, or goggleye and other fish commonly referred to as bream, are also members of the Sunfish Family.

There are two species of crappie in Mississippi, white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) and black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus). White crappie can be distinguished from black crappie by the number of spines in the dorsal fin. The dorsal fin is the fin on the crappie's back. White crappie have 6 spines and black crappie have 7 or 8. The spots on the side of white crappie form several faint vertical bars, while spots on the black crappie are irregular. Also, the dorsal fin of white crappie is shorter and further back on the body. Spines are the best way to tell the difference between the tWo crappie; during spring the male crappie gets very dark and it is sometimes hard to discern the vertical bars on the white crappie. Some anglers, who do not know how to tell the two species apart, erroneously think the black crappie is the male and the white crappie is the female.

Crappie have been found spawning from early March to early June. Late March to mid-April, though, is generally the prime spawning period. Hatching of crappie eggs have been estimated to occur as early as mid-March. Once spawning begins, it will occur over a 30 to 40 day period. Spawning is initiated by water temperature and photoperiod.

Photoperiod is a term for the length of daylight. Water temperature initiates spawning, with spawning beginning when water temperature reaches 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and the prime spawning occurring between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Crappie, like most other sunfish, are nest builders. The male crappie fans out a depression in moderately firm substrate, usually in an area protected from the wind. Nests ate usually built in the vicinity of some type of structure. Larger crappie are believed to spawn earlier. Larger crappie have more eggs than smaller crappie. Where a two-year-old crappie may have 24,000 eggs, a five- year-old crappie will have 195,000 eggs. Although some two-year-old crappie will be mature, all three-year-old crappie are mature. The longer the fish is at its second birthday, the higher the probability that it will be mature.

After the female lays the eggs, male crappie fan them and guard the nest. The eggs sink and are adhesive, so they stick to the bottom. Hatching normally takes about 3 to 4 days, but can take longer if the water is cold, or shorter if the water is warm. Young crappie stay in the nest for another 4 to 5 days after hatching and the male continues to guard the fry during this period and for a short while after the fry leave the nest.

Crappie can grow relatively fast. Crappie in Mississippi reach harvestable size of7 to 8 inches when they are two years old. Black crappie in Mississippi reach 4 to 5 inches when they are 1 year old, 7 inches at age 2 and 10 to 11 inches their third year. White crappie reach 5 to 6 inches at age 1, 8 inches at age 2 and 10 to 11 inches at age 3. An oxbow crappie 12 inches or longer is generally 4 years old or older.

Although crappie are a popular fish, they make up a small portion of fish in a lake. Where the total weight of fish in an acre of water along the shoreline in the lakes and reservoirs of North Mississippi range from 300 to 1,200 pounds, the weight of crappie will range from 2 to 32 pounds. Most of the lakes have 20 pounds or less of crappie.

Most of the information presented above is based on research projects of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Funding for this research is made possible through a federal excise tax on fishing equipment. This tax was authorized in 1950 by the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act. It is a part of the cost of fishing equipment. Monies generated by the tax are used for fisheries research, restoration, conservation, enhancement and management. Mississippi has used these funds to sponsor research at the Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Mississippi State University to assess crappie populations and to undertake an angler's survey.

This article was written by Garry Lucas, a fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks.

 

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