Black Crappie

Black Crappie. Photo © George Burgess
Black Crappie. Photo © George Burgess

Pomoxis nigromaculatus

Crappies are a popular game fish and prized as a food source, so their original range of the Eastern US has been artificially expanded by stocking lakes, ponds, and rivers across the mainland US. The black crappie looks very similar to the white crappie except that it has more dorsal spines and more dark pigment on its body than the white crappie. They prefer very clear and still water, and in the right environment, can quickly overpopulate to the detriment of their own species and any others sharing their space.

Order: Perciformes
Family: Centrarchidae
Genus: Pomoxis
Species: nigromaculatus

Common Names

Common English names include black crappie, calico bass, crappie, crawpie, grass bass, moonfish, oswego bass, shiner, speck, speckled bass, and strawberry bass. Other common names are kalikoabborre (Swedish), marigane noire (French Canadian), mustapilkkuahven (Finnish), perca-prateada (Portuguese), sort crappie (Danish), svart solabbor (Norwegian), and svart solabborre (Swedish).

Importance to Humans

The black crappie is an important fish in recreational and commercial fisheries. Crappies have the distinction of being among the most palatable species of freshwater fishes. Their flesh is light-colored and has little of the “fishy” flavor, which some people find distasteful. During the spring, crappies may be caught in great numbers. “Fish fries”, featuring crappie as the main course, are popular gatherings among anglers of fish camps throughout the black crappie’s range. Crappies are often displayed in public aquaria facilities.


Black crappies are prized game fish. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Black crappies are prized game fish. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Although not as popular as the largemouth bass or rainbow trout, crappies are highly prized game fish. They may be caught on artificial lures and live bait. Small, light-colored feather jigs are among the popular lures in the crappie angler’s arsenal. These jigs may be cast and retrieved, fished with free-lined jigging motion over submerged structure, or fished beneath a bobber. Crappie may also be taken in deep water by trolling diving or sinking plugs. In the shallows, anglers catch many fish on small spinners, spoons, and other minnow-imitating baits.

For anglers preferring live bait, the minnow is the overwhelming favorite. Minnows are generally captive bred and may be purchased from bait at appropriate sizes ranging from 1-4 inches (2.5-10.1 cm) in length. Live bait fishing methods include fishing the minnow under a bobber on a light, medium-sized hook. Minnows may also be fished in deeper water by slow trolling with or without a bobber.

Whichever method is chosen, the angler must take care when setting the hook when crappie fishing. Crappie have notoriously thin mouth membranes. With too strong of a hook set or too stiff a rod, the hook may tear through the thin membrane.

Danger to Humans

The black crappie is omnivorous, and without predators around they tend to overpopulate their habitat. This causes an increase in competition and can lead to stunting their own species’ population growth as well as those of other species.


Due to their reproductive capability and range expansion (through introductions), the black crappie can be safely harvested under reasonable regulations without permanent damage to the fishery.

> Check the status of the black crappie at the IUCN website.

The IUCN is a global union of states, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations in a partnership that assesses the conservation status of species.

Geographical Distribution

World distribution map for the black crappie - original range. This range has been extended as a result of introductions throughout much of the U.S.
World distribution map for the black crappie – original range. This range has been extended as a result of introductions throughout much of the U.S.

As is the case with many 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, black crappie presently may be found throughout much of the U.S., including the northeastern seaboard and in the west.


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 such as in many ponds, lakes, streams, and sloughs. This fish may also be present in reservoirs if the preferred habitat preferences are present.


Black crappie. Photo courtesy U.S. EPA
Black crappie. Photo courtesy U.S. EPA

Distinctive Features
This fish has the deep and laterally compressed body that is commonly associated with panfish. The head is small and the back is arched. The black crappie has a fairly large mouth which may be indicative of its piscivorous (fish eating) feeding habits. The upper jaw extends below the eye. The dorsal and anal fins are large and appear almost identical in shape.

The closely related white crappie (P. annularis) is very similar in appearance to the black crappie. However, the white crappie may be distinguished from the black crappie by two characteristics: 1) the white crappie has 5-6 dorsal spines while the black crappie has 7-8 spines; 2) the white crappie has dark pigment on its sides oriented as vertical, mottled stripes while the black crappie often has more of this black pigment and is mottled more evenly over the entire body of the fish.

The white crappie is sometimes confused with the black crappie. Photo © George Burgess
The white crappie is sometimes confused with the black crappie. Photo © George Burgess

The black crappie has dark, black mottling on a silvery-gray to white body color. During the breeding season, it may be primarily black in coloration with flecks of iridescent blue and green. The dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are marked with rows of dark spots.

Size, Age, and Growth
The maximum length reported for a black crappie is 19.3 inches (49.0 cm) total length (TL) and the maximum published weight is just under 6 pounds (2.72 kg). This species is known to live at least 15 years.

During the first four years of life, young black crappies grow quickly in the warm waters of the southern US while growth is slower in cooler northern U.S. waters. Black crappies reach maturity at 2-4 years of age.

Food Habits
The black crappie feeds early in the morning from midnight to approximately 2:00am. Individuals less than 6.3 inches (16 cm) in length feed on planktonic crustaceans and dipterous larvae while larger fish feed on small fishes such as shad and minnows.

Black crappies grow to a maximum total length of 19.3 inches. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Black crappies grow to a maximum total length of 19.3 inches. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

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 excavated by the male on substrates of sand, gravel, or mud in close proximity to shoreline vegetation. After spawning occurs, 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.Predators
Large piscivorous fish are potential predators of the black crappie. Predaceous aquatic insects along with a host of other predators likely prey upon young black crappie.

The monogenes Haplocleidus dispar and Cleidodiscus vancleavei have been reported as parasites of the black crappie.


This fish was originally described as Cantharus nigromaculatus by Lesueur in 1829. This name was later changed to the currently valid Pomoxis nigromaculatus (Lesueur 1829). The genus name, Pomoxis, is derived from the Greek “poma, -atos” and “oxys” meaning sharp operculum. The species name, nigromaculatus, is derived from Latin and translated as “black spotted”.

Prepared by: Andrew Bridges