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The black crappie is a silvery-speckled, deep-bodied, slab-sided sunfish with a large mouth. The upper jaw reaches past the middle of the eye when the mouth is closed. It usually has a dark back with many green or blackish spots irregularly spaced over the sides. There are no distinct vertical bars as in white crappie. The body is somewhat deeper in proportion to its length, and the dorsal, tail, and anal fins are strongly reticulated with black giving the appearance of a dark-colored fin with many whitish spots. The spiny dorsal and soft dorsal fins are broadly connected without being notched. The anal fin is nearly as long and as large as the dorsal fin and has 6 spines. The dorsal fin has 7 or 8 dorsal spines, and the length of the dorsal fin base is equal to the distance from the eye to the front of the dorsal fin.
The black crappie is distributed throughout Iowa, though rare in the Missouri River basin in the western portion of the state. It is common in clear rivers, natural lakes, reservoirs and backwater sloughs of the Mississippi River.
Small fish, aquatic insects and their larvae.
3 lbs, 14 oz, 18 in. - Three Mile Lake, Union County, 6/5/2013 - Dale Klein, Omaha, Nebraska.
Fish in brushy areas, if you aren't getting snagged often, you aren't fishing where the fish are!
Black crappie are intolerant of turbid waters and are nearly always found in the clearer lakes and streams in Iowa. It is common to abundant in the natural lakes and the backwater sloughs of the upper Mississippi River. It is a common resident in certain eastern Iowa rivers but rare in western streams. Most man-made recreational lakes have black crappie, but their abundance depends upon water clarity. Few lakes have only one crappie species.
Black crappies require clear water, abundant cover in the form of submerged timber or aquatic vegetation and sandy or mucky bottoms. It has adapted well to impoundments and reservoirs, particularly clear stream-fed arms of reservoirs, with large growths of aquatic vegetation and little turbidity or siltation. In Wisconsin, the black crappie prefers clear, deep, cool waters. Whereas in Ohio, small populations are present in base or low gradient portions of large streams.
Food habits of the black crappie are similar to those of the closely related white crappie. Initial food is zooplankton, which is supplemented with insects toward the end of their first year. Insects remain an important food item throughout life, but black crappie eat small fish and minnows from their second year through adulthood.
Spawning requirements for black crappie are nearly the same as those of white crappie, but the nest size is slightly more shallow. The nest is usually built in 3 to 8 feet of water. Black crappie spawn at water temperatures of 58 to 64 degrees F. Fecundity of female black crappie may range up to 150,000 eggs, but 20,000 to 60,000 eggs are more common. Nests of both crappie species usually have similar-sized egg masses.
Black crappie growth is less than that of white crappie, but they are heavier at the same length. The young reach body lengths of 2 to 3 inches in the first year of life and mature during the second or third year. Most of the black crappie caught by fishermen are 8 to 12 inches long, but occasionally very large, up to 4 pounds, fish are caught.
Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.
Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.
Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames
Illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.