Black Crappie

Pomoxis nigromaculatus

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Illustration of a male black crappie in spawning coloration.
The black crappie is deep bodied and slab sided. The sides are silver with an irregular pattern of dark speckles.
Joseph R. Tomelleri. Used with permission
Family

Centrarchidae (sunfishes) in the order Perciformes (perch-like fishes)

Description

The black crappie is silvery with a color pattern that is mainly irregularly arranged speckles and blotches (not vertical bars). The dorsal fin has 7 or 8 spines. Crappies, as a group, are popular panfish that are deep bodied and strongly compressed laterally (slab sided). The upper jaw is long, reaching well past the middle of eye. The two sections of the dorsal fin (spiny forepart and soft-rayed rear part) are broadly connected, without a notch between. The anal fin is nearly as long and large as the dorsal fin, and it has 6 spines. The upper surface of the head and forward part of the back are strongly concave.

Similar species: White crappie have faint vertical bars instead of irregularly arranged speckles and blotches as the color pattern. They also have 6 dorsal fin spines instead of 7 or 8.

Size

Total length: 9-10 inches (seldom exceeds 14 inches); weight: to about 4 pounds.

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Image of a black crappie
Black Crappie

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Ice Fishing for Black Crappie
Ice Fishing for Black Crappie
Habitat and conservation

Like the white crappie, the black crappie occupies open water with submerged timber or aquatic vegetation in standing water bodies and slow-flowing backwaters of large rivers. However, the black crappie is less tolerant of turbid water and siltation.

Foods

Feeds primarily on small fish such as minnows and young shad, plus aquatic insects and small crustaceans.

image of Black Crappie Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Widespread but sporadic. Most prevalent in large Ozark reservoirs, upper Mississippi River navigation pools, and natural lakes and borrow pits of the Bootheel lowlands. Least abundant in extreme south-central Missouri.

Status

Common game species; less important than white crappie in most waters because it is generally not as abundant.

Life cycle

Female black crappie may spawn with several males and can produce eggs several times during the spawning period. The black crappie grows slower in length than the white crappie but is generally heavier at any given length. It usually lives 4 years; occasionally it will live 8 years or more.

Human connections

Crappie are feisty, tasty, and a favorite of anglers.

Ecosystem connections

As a predator, this fish controls populations of prey species. As with all fish, eggs and young individuals are commonly eaten by many other species.