Wilderness Underfoot: Crappies

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118840987916837.jpg’, ”, ‘White and black crappies – The white crappie, Pomoxis annularis, (upper) is lighter in color and has eight or nine dark bars on its sides. The largest white crappie on record was 5 pounds, 3 ounces, although most caught by fishermen weigh less than a pound. The largest ever caught here in Illinois was a respectable 4 pounds, 7 ounces, taken from a farm pond in Morgan County. The black crappie, Pomoxis nigromaculatus, (lower) is darker and more heavily spotted. The largest black crappie on record was 6 pounds, but like the white crappie, most are much smaller. In our own state, the record black crappie was 4 pounds, 8 ounces, caught on Rend Lake in Franklin County. Both crappie species often swim together and may be difficult to tell apart based on markings alone—which may be less pronounced on some individuals. The key to identification is the number of spines on the top (dorsal) fin: the white crappie has six spines, while the black crappie has seven or eight. Both fish are probably native only to Eastern North America, but they have been distributed throughout much of the US. and Southern Canada—particularly the black crappie. White crappies may live more than 10 years, and black crappies may live as long as 15 years or more.‘);

These prolific fish are plentiful in lakes and rivers throughout Illinois.

Whether they’re native to a given body of water, or introduced, these hardy fish are terrific adapters under a range of conditions. In some cases, their prolific tendencies cause problems, however, as crappies can quickly outnumber other fish species. Their populations can expand so much that all the fish in a lake suffer from the effects of overcrowding, such as lack of vigor and small size.

Like other members of the sunfish family, crappies are regarded as “panfish” because they’re small enough to be fried whole in a pan. They’re a popular catch for fishermen across the U.S., with flavorful, slightly sweet-tasting meat. The best crappie fishing happens in the spring, during spawning season.

Both white and black crappies can often be found in the same waters, taking well to relatively deep ponds, lakes and rivers. White crappies prefer somewhat more active waters, while black crappies prefer clearer still waters. In warmer waters of southern states, crappies can grow quite fast, reaching 8 inches or more in their first year.

These fish like to linger around areas with plenty of cover from plants and roots. During dawn, they tend to come close to the surface, gradually moving to deeper waters as the sun rises, and by midday, they may be more than 20 feet deep. At night, they’re sometimes attracted to bright lights shined on the surface of the water.

Crappies typically prey on smaller fish, including members of their own species. They also eat insects and crustaceans, hunting by sight.

from the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2007, issue

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