two people fishing off a dock for crappieCrappie sport almost as many nicknames as they do stripes and spots. Common monikers include slabs, papermouths, thin mouths, speckled bass, specks and bachelors. Whatever they’re called as they’re collected on a stringer, the most important thing to anglers is that these fish are called “delicious” at the dinner table. In fact, primarily because of its popularity in the frying pan, this species is the second-most sought-after sport fish in Oklahoma.

Crappie are members of the sunfish family. Oklahoma is home to two species, the white (Pomoxis annularis) and black (Pomoxis nigromatulatis) crappie. White crappie tolerate muddy and flowing water better than their cousins, although neither species is common in swift currents. Both species thrive in lakes and waterways throughout Oklahoma, with whites being the most prevalent.
These two species easily distinguishable. The black crappie is deeper-bodies with darker coloring and markings. They have seven or eight dorsal spines. White crappie are more streamlines and are lighter in color, often displaying vertical stripes or bands, and have only six dorsal spines. Because of their stockier bodies, black crappie generally weigh more than white crappie of the same length. In other words, a 10-inch black crappie often will weigh more than a 10-inch white crappie

Spawning occurs when water temperatures reach 55 to 65 degrees. Both black and white crappie take on darker coloration during the breeding season, when the fish move into the shallows. Spawning generally takes place in water only 18 to 36 inches deep, with black crappie usually found a bit deeper than white crappie. Females may deposit between 25,000 and 75,000 eggs each before returning to the depths, leaving the males at the spawning site to guard the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, males linger for a few additional days to continue guarding the fry. Soon thereafter, though, the young crappie are on their own.

Adult crappie eat small fish such as minnows and shad. Crayfish may also be taken, along with mollusks and insects. Mayflies are an important seasonal food.

Crappie are native only to North America, but the white and black species have proven their adaptability through the years. At the time of the American Revolution they were popular with Southern fisherman, but found only in an area extending south from southern Manitoba through the eastern and central United States to Florida and Texas. There were no crappie west of the Rockies. However, modern fisheries management introduced crappie into every state except Alaska, and today both species are found coast to coast from southern Canada to northern Mexico.

Their adaptability and amazing capacity reproduction can allow crappie to easily overpopulate small lakes and ponds, which results in poor, stunted populations of fish. However, in bigger reservoirs, they grow to a fairly large size. The average crappie caught in Oklahoma ranges between a half- pound to 1 ½ pounds.

Crappie are schooling fish and often congregate near submerged structure. These fish inhabit shallow water during spawn, but later in the year they often reside in water 15 feet deep or deeper. Standing timber and brush are good places for anglers to look for crappie. Minnows and jigs are top bait choices.

While crappie will always remain popular with anglers, all outdoors enthusiasts who appreciate well-rounded wildlife ecosystems can be thankful for them, too. After all, no matter what they’re called, the black and white crappie are important members of Oklahoma’s native aquatic community.