How cool are fish? Each species is different and has biological differences that control so much about where they live and why. Knowing these facts will help dial in the location and patterns of the fish you seek to catch. Fish identification is just the start. Learning the biological aspects helps us catch and preserve this amazing natural creature. Please bear with me and my poindexter excerpts of “Let’s get to know…”.
Let’s get to know “The Crappie”
The crappie is one of my favorite warm water species due to its color pattern and magnificent fin shape. It looks like something you would find in a tropical fish tank as opposed to your local pond. This fish is also very tasty making it a “most wanted” species in Colorado and ranked third in the nation as most popular table fish. Colorado may not be as famous for crappie as other states but some specimens in the 16’er range and beyond are caught every year.
The crappie is part of the sunfish family and introduced into Colorado around 1882. Crappies are more abundant in eastern Colorado waters but still exist in healthy numbers along the Front Range and beyond the Western Slope. This species may be one of the more popular introduced species but not always successful. A balance between predator species such as walleye and bass is key to crappie success along with quality habitat. This species prefers clear water environments with submerged tree and rock structure. Their diet consists mostly of insects, small vertebrates, and minnows.
There are two variations of the crappie; white crappie and black crappie. Both are similar in shape and size but vary slightly in color patterns. Black crappies have a denser clustering of black dots compared to the white crappie. White crappies generally have a higher growth rate but black crappies generally tend to have more robust body construction. Hybridization with bluegill and sunfish species can also cause color variations but I tend to see this more in the white crappie as opposed to the black. (It is also said that the diet varies slightly and black crappie will eat a wide range of prey including insects, crayfish and others as where white crappie prefers small fish such as minnows and shad. However this is something I can’t confirm and think is subject to the food source available.)
Spawning habits are similar between black and white crappie variations. Spawning occurs in spring when water temps reach 55-60 degrees. Males create nesting sights and several crappies may form colonies. During a single spawn females may produce well over 100,000 eggs. Fry hatch 3 to 5 days but are still attached to the substrate. They eventually free themselves by swimming a few days later. Eventually the minnows will congregate in schools towards the middle of the lake or around deeper structure.
Crappies are prolific meaning that they reproduce more than once in a year. Overcrowding of this species can become a problem causing stunting and other ecological issues. In many Colorado lakes the crappie species benefits from responsible harvesting. Selective Harvest of crappie should be done in a manner that suits both the crappie and the angler. Going out and nailing a full limit of crappie every day until they are all gone should not be the main goal. This practice is literally wiping out crappie populations in some Colorado lakes where several handfuls of anglers have dialed in the hot spots, camped out on the schools and drained the populations completely. This is often done during the prespawn and spawn cycle disrupting the breeding cycle.
To compound the problem the keepers end up being the biggest fish of the day. [Insert DNA Maximus argument…am I really starting to sound like a broken record here?] Responsible harvest of crappie in the most common sized slot in modest amounts once or twice a year is more ideal. The result is a healthier system that will provide a steady supply of fat crappie for a number of anglers that would be willing to share them wisely as opposed to knocking the population dead until they just quit knocking.
Once upon a time I started a “Save the Crappie” campaign but people kept showing up with beer batter and tartar sauce. (I love that joke so much I used it twice.)
Hopefully you have enjoyed this excerpt of “let’s get to know”.