black crappie
  • Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©

    Pomoxis annularis - scientific name (white crappie)
    Pomoxis nigromaculatus - scientific name (black crappie)

    Identification:

    Michigan has both black and white crappie in its waters. Although similar in appearance, white crappie tend to have markings that resemble vertical bars on their sides, while black crappie appear more randomly spotted. To be sure, however, count dorsal spines: White crappie typically have six dorsal spines, blacks have seven or eight.

    Fishing:

    Often shallow-water cuts and canals, especially those with dark bottoms -- which warm faster than the main lake -- are among the first places to look for spring crappie. Similarly, crappie move into marinas or other protected coves. In the Great Lakes, look for them among shallow-water emergent vegetation, such as reeds or bulrushes.

    Anglers generally fish for crappie with live minnows or jigs, either casting or still-fishing under a bobber, though fly fishermen often take them on streamers. They have large mouths, capable of taking sizable minnows, so use a larger hook than you would for bluegills or sunfish. Both species of crappie are schooling fish so when you've found one, you've generally found a bunch.

    Diet:

    Insect larvae and minnows are the primary diet that fishers would mimic while angling.

    Life History:

    Though similar in both appearance and habits, white crappie tolerate more turbid water and tend to inhabit more rivers and reservoirs, while black crappie are more often associated with more clear water lakes. white crappie are more often associated with brush and standing timber while black crappie tend to be found in and around weed beds. Known by a handful of nicknames, especially calico bass, crappie are among the first of the panfish species to move shallow for spawning in the spring, when open-water angling for them is at its peak.  After spawning, crappie move out to deeper water and have a tendency to suspend in the water column, making them a little more difficult to catch than some other panfish.