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Crappie biology and identification

White crappie. Black and White crappie

The black crappie and white crappie are among Minnesota's most popular fish. In the angler's creel, the black crappie probably ranks second behind the bluegill.

The black crappie is the more widely distributed of the two closely related species, occurring in most lakes throughout the state. The black crappie prefers deeper, cooler, clearer water than the white crappie does.

The two species are difficult to distinguish. The black crappie is generally darker overall and has seven or eight spines in its dorsal fin. The white crappie, on the other hand, often has markings arranged in vertical bars. It usually has five or six dorsal spines. The two species are similar in size; a 2-pound fish is unusually large.

Spawning habits for the two crappie species are similar. They spawn in May and June, in water temperatures in the mid-60s, in water up to 6 feet deep. Males build and guard nests in colonies. They mature early and are prolific; a large female may produce well over 100,000 eggs. Crappie are prone to stunting. Because a strong year-class often dominates in a lake, crappie often appear to be all of the same size. When these fish of a strong year-class grow large, the lake can gain a reputation as a crappie hot spot and then fade into mediocrity as a younger year class takes over.

Young crappie eat small aquatic invertebrates. Adults can continue to feed on plankton but usually eat a lot of small fish as well. Crappie may compete with walleye to some degree because their habits are similar. Both species travel open water in schools, feeding on similar foods at night, dawn and dusk.

The most effective management is the protection of habitat and maintenance of good predator-prey balance in the lake.