Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Black Crappie vs White Crappie

Crappie, quite possibly America's favorite panfish. I know they are my favorite panfish. They may not be the strongest fighter but they make up for it with their numbers. When you find one crappie, you can almost always guarantee there are more near by. Combine that with a delicious tasting flesh that is easy to fillet and you got yourself a great panfish. It wasn't until I started fishing year round through the winter that I truly started to appreciate crappie. Not only do crappie actively feed year round but they are predictable in the winter time. They will congregate around deeper structure making it easier to pinpoint prime locations. Many fish are shut down in the winter and feeding less often but not the crappie. This gives diehard anglers a great option for fishing through the winter.

So what are the differences between the black and white crappie? I know that before I started harvesting crappie frequently in the past couple years my confidence in distinguishing the two variations was low. Now it is all to easy.

Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)

The most obvious difference between a Black Crappie and a White Crappie is the color but this isn't always clear cut. Many factors can effect the coloration of a fish including the color of the water and spawning periods. During spawning periods both black and white crappie will appear darker in color. Rather than using color it is better to examine the blotch patterns on the side of the fish. Notice that the Black Crappie pictured above has a fairly even distribution of blotches while the White Crappie blotches form more of a stripe pattern.

Another distinguishing trait is the shape. Black Crappie have a much more rounded shape than White Crappie. When compared side by side the shape difference is much more obvious. The depression above the eye of a Black Crappie is much more pronounced. This rounder shape makes the dorsal fin length of the Black Crappie approximately equal to the distance from the eye to the dorsal fin. On White Crappie the dorsal fin length is shorter than the distance from the eye to the dorsal fin. Notice the shape difference in the picture below, Black Crappie are on top while White Crappie are on bottom.

A third trait that distinguishes the black and white crappie is the number of spines in the dorsal fin. At the front of the dorsal fins there are a number of sharp spines on each. The Black Crappie typically has 7-8 spines while the White Crappie typically only has 5-6 spines.

Size-wise the two are practically the same. From my experience the rounder shape does make the black crappie weigh slightly more for its length and possibly yield more meat per length. The Ohio state record for Black Crappie is 4 pounds 8 ounces while the Ohio state record for White Crappie is 3 pounds 14 ounces. Moreover the North American Black Crappie record is 6 pounds even while the North American White Crappie record is 5 pounds 3 ounces. This would lead me to believe that the Black Crappie does indeed grow to slightly larger weights. 

Diet and spawning habits are nearly identical. They both start their spawning phase when the water temperature reaches the upper 50's. It is said that the Black Crappie prefers clearer water with plenty of vegetation while the White Crappie prefers more turbid water with less vegetation.

Here's a couple more pictures for comparison, Black Crappie on the left and White Crappie on the right.

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