Physical Description

Coloration of black crappie is dark on the top and silver-olive and bronze on the side and belly. They are generally darker than their close relative, the white crappie. The body is compressed and deep-bodied, with heavy, irregular spotting over the head, body, and fins. Black crappie have seven or eight spines on the dorsal fin, which is large and equal in size with the anal fin.

They have large, dark eyes and wide mouths that resemble those of largemouth bass. The black crappie’s mouth, however, is paper thin and not as large relative to the body.


Black crappie are native to the eastern half of North America, from southern Manitoba and Ontario in Canada south to Florida, and as far west as Nebraska. Black crappie have been widely introduced to waters throughout North America and their range now includes nearly the entire continent, though they are found in greatest number the upper and lower Midwest, as well as the southeastern United States.


Black crappie can adapt to a wide variety of habitats, anything from shallow, vegetated farm ponds to deep, sprawling reservoirs with little or no natural cover. They thrive in virtually any environment, including natural lakes, reservoirs, sloughs, ponds and backwater areas of large rivers, seemingly any body of fresh water with adequate forage and an absence of current.

They prefer sandy or muddy bottoms, and may occupy depths of 1 to 50 feet, depending on time of year, water clarity and temperature, and available food. In general, black crappie inhabit deep water in summer and winter, moving to the shallows in spring and fall.

Black crappie are structure and cover-oriented fish. In natural lakes, they often relate to whatever aquatic vegetation is available, including cabbage and coontail weeds and bulrushes, as well as drop-offs and other structural elements. In reservoirs, many of which lack vegetation, flooded timber provides their preferred cover, while drop-offs and creek channels are readily used. Any type of cover or structure found in lakes and reservoirs will attract black crappie in ponds and sloughs. 

Spawning Habits

Black crappie spawn anytime from early spring to mid-summer, once the water reaches between 62 and 68 degrees. Males will be the first to migrate to shallow water nesting sites, often in water 1 to 3 feet deep. In extremely clear water, they may nest as deep as 15 feet.

Females deposit between 10,000 to 160,000 eggs, depending upon age and size, in nests built by males. Nests are constructed in colonies over mud, sand or gravel and located wherever shallow water cover is present. Males guard the nest until eggs are hatched three to five days later. Young black crappie feed mostly on insects and insect larvae until they reach 4 to 5 inches.

During the spawn, the male will take on an almost completely black appearance, while females remain light in color with pronounced black spots.

Food Usage/Selection

The main component of the black crappie diet is fish, especially small minnows, shad and small sunfish. However, they will also eat plankton, insects, insect larvae, and worms, especially in ponds and sloughs where large baitfish populations are uncommon. They also eat the fry of other fishes.

Black crappie have large appetites and may feed at any time of day or night. They are primarily ambush feeders, often lurking in cover and picking off minnows as they swim by. Yet they will often school in large groups to follow baitfish, especially during summer and winter, although their preferred prey usually inhabit the same areas as black crappie.

Sporting Qualities

Black crappie are considered one of the most, if not the most, popular panfish species. They are pursued heavily by expert and novice anglers alike, mainly for their exceptional eating qualities and ability to be caught in large numbers. Black crappie are not known for their fighting ability, but they will put up a decent fight when hooked.

Most anglers fish for black crappie during the spring, when spawning movements bring the fish into shallow waters. However, experienced anglers will follow the fish year-round as they move back to summer, fall and winter locations. In fact, many veteran crappie anglers insist that late winter offers the easiest fishing, whether through the ice or in open water.

Common techniques include casting, drifting and vertical jigging with light or ultralight-action spinning or spin-casting tackle. The most popular presentation, especially during the spawn, is baiting a small minnow on a light hook underneath a bobber. Small jigs, whether plastic or feathered, are also highly effective and can even be fished under a bobber during the spawn. Later in the year, vertical jigging with small jigs is popular in deeper water, but a simple minnow and split-shot sinker can also be used.

Since black crappie are known to gather in large schools, if one fish is caught, several others are likely to follow.


The all-tackle world record for black crappie is 4 pounds, 8 ounces taken in Virginia in 1981.

The black crappie’s mouth is so thin and delicate that anglers often pull hooks free while setting the hook. This also led to one of the black crappie’s common names: “papermouth.”