Crappies are small to medium-sized freshwater fish. They are the second most popular freshwater fish among U.S. anglers, behind the largemouth bass. These panfish are a staple of casual family fishing trips, but they are also targeted by more serious anglers. How big do these popular fish grow? It depends on a few factors.
There are two crappie species: white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) and black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus). While these fish share many similar traits, there are some differences, including the size of each species.
White crappie typically grows 9-13 inches long with weights ranging from half a pound to 1.5 pounds.
Black crappie tends to be shorter and heavier than white crappie. An average black crappie will measure 8-12 inches long and weigh from three-quarters of a pound to two pounds.
A crappie of either species that measures above 15 inches and weighs more than two pounds is generally considered to be a trophy fish. Here’s a completely unscientific but possibly helpful gauge: if a crappie weighs more than a pineapple, that is a slab crappie! “Slab” or “slabber” are slang terms anglers use to describe large crappie.
The Largest Crappie Ever Caught
The world record white crappie was caught in 1957 in Mississippi. The monster fish weighed five pounds, three ounces.
The black crappie world record was set much more recently. A five-pound, seven-ounce slab was caught in Tenessee in 2018.
Geography also plays a significant role in crappie sizes.
A crappie in Florida has a better chance of growing to a trophy size than a crappie in Wisconsin. In cold weather states, crappies enter a torpor state during the winter. Their feeding slows dramatically. What the fish do eat during the winter only helps maintain their size rather than adding growth.
Conversely, crappies in warm states actively feed year-round, allowing them to grow larger than their northern counterparts.
This isn’t an ironclad rule. There are certainly trophy crappie to be caught in northern lakes. Typically, though, most of the largest crappie are caught in warmer-weather states.
Beyond species and geography, other variables contribute to an individual crappie’s size and growth potential. Some of those factors include:
- Overall population size
- Food availability
- Water quality, oxygen level, and temperature
- Fishing pressure
Differences Between Crappie Species
Along with slight differences in size, there are other distinctions between the two crappie species. As their names suggest, the two species are different colors. Typically, white crappie is lighter in color while black crappie is darker, but this is not always the case. In some instances, white crappie can feature dark colors, and black crappie can be lightly colored. The colors of an individual fish can vary based on a number of factors, including water quality, diet, and genetics.
While colors can vary, some definite ways exist to tell the difference between white and black crappie. White crappie has vertical lines along the sides of the body. Black crappie have irregular dark blotches on their sides.
The dorsal fin is another easy way to differentiate between the species. Both have a spiny dorsal fin, but the white crappie has five or six dorsal spines, while the black crappie has seven or eight.
White and black crappie each have their own geographic range, but many of them overlap. The two species are often found in the same water, and they can hybridize.
Hybrid crappie are not sterile, but their reproduction rates are nowhere near those of the two separate species. This diminished reproductivity typically means hybrid crappie don’t live beyond one or two generations. The odds of catching a true hybrid crappie are slim, even in lakes stocked with plenty of both white and black crappie.
Also, contrary to the tall tales of many fishermen, crappie, and bluegill do not hybridize. There has never been a documented case of a true crappie/bluegill hybrid.
Best Places and Time of Year to Catch Crappie
Crappies thrive mainly in lakes with ample food, cover, and water quality.
Both white and black crappie can be caught year-round, though winter fishing in cold-weather states will be notably slower, as mentioned above.
Spring is typically the best time of year for crappie fishing. During the spring spawn, which can be anywhere from mid-February to early June, depending on your location, crappies move into shallower water which makes them easier to target. Crappies normally build spawning nests in one to six feet of water. The spawn occurs after the water temperature rises above 60°F, so anglers can monitor the lake conditions in their area to gauge when the crappie spawn will occur.
Summer can yield great crappie fishing, but the fishing will often slow down in the heat of the day. Early morning or late evening can be some of the most productive crappie fishing times during the summer.
Fall is a wonderful time for crappie. The weather is cooler, and the fish may be more active throughout the day.
Best Crappie Baits
Crappies are predatory fish that feed on insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish. They are not super-picky about what they eat, and they are aggressive predators. That makes crappie relatively easy to catch, even for young, inexperienced anglers.
Crappies are most often caught with live bait. Minnows are a perfect crappie bait. Insects such as crickets and grasshoppers are a great option. Nightcrawlers also work well, assuming you can keep the lake’s bluegill from beating the crappie to the bait.
If you prefer to fish with artificial lures, there are several options that can work well. Small crankbaits, soft plastic swim baits, small jig spinners, and tube jigs are all quite effective in crappie fishing.
Crappie as Table Fare
Crappies are part of a larger group of fish known as panfish. “Panfish” is an unscientific term that essentially means “pan-sized fish” or fish that fit in a frying pan. Other common panfish include bluegill, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, redear, warmouth, and other freshwater sunfish.
Panfish are classified by their small size but also by their quality as table fare. Crappies are not only among the best-eating panfish available today, but they are one of the tastiest of all freshwater fish that swim in U.S. waters.
Panfish such as crappie don’t yield filets anywhere close to the size of other freshwater fish. Where one or two catfish may be enough for a fish fry, you’re going to need a “mess” of crappie. But the good news is crappie are often caught in large numbers. They are schooling fish. If you catch one crappie, you have a good chance of catching several more.
Putting crappie on ice rather than in a livewell will help keep the fish fresh. Crappies are fairly easy to filet, as seen in the video below.
Once the fish are fileted, they are ready for the frying pan (or the grill, if you prefer). There are a nearly infinite number of breading recipes, so find one that fits your taste and enjoy!
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