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Black Crappie

Black Crappie, illustration by Maynard Reece, from Iowa Fish and Fishing.


The black crappie is a silvery-speckled, deep-bodied, slab-sided sunfish and has a large mouth. The upper jaw reaches well past the middle of the eye when the mouth is closed. It usually has a dark back with numerous 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 dorsal fin base is equal to the distance from the eye to the front of the dorsal fin.


Black Crappie Distribution

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.

State Record

3 lbs, 14 oz, 18 in. - Three Mile Lake, Union County, 6/5/2013 - Dale Klein, Omaha, Nebraska.

Expert Tip

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 ranks 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 contain black crappie, but their abundance depends greatly upon water clarity. Few lakes contain only one crappie species.

The principal requirements of the black crappie are clear water, abundant cover in the form of submerged timber or aquatic vegetation and sandy or mucky bottoms. The black crappie has adapted well to impoundments and reservoirs, particularly clear stream-fed arms of reservoirs, with extensive 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 quite 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 feed on 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 constructed 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 the rule. Nests of both crappie species usually contain similar-sized egg masses.

Black crappie growth is somewhat less than that of white crappie, but they are heavier at the same length.  The young attain 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, specimens are caught.


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.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

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Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Red Rock Reservoir Marion 4 miles north of Knoxville 15250.00
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Rathbun Reservoir Appanoose 8 miles northwest of Centerville 11000.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Muscatine Amenities list for Muscatine City Ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00
Big Spirit Lake Dickinson 1m N Spirit Lake 5684.00
Coralville Reservoir Johnson 4 miles north of Iowa City 5280.00
Saylorville Reservoir Polk North edge of Des Moines 4970.00
West Okoboji Lake Dickinson northwest edge of Arnolds Park 3847.00
Clear Lake Cerro Gordo south edge of Clear Lake 3684.00
Storm Lake (incl Little Storm Lake) Buena Vista south edge of Storm Lake 3097.00
Lake Odessa Louisa 5 miles east of Wapello 3000.00
Tuttle Lake Emmet 1 mile east, 2 miles north of Dolliver 2268.00
East Okoboji Lake Dickinson east edge of Okoboji 1835.00
Lost Island Lake Palo Alto 3 miles north of Ruthven 1162.00
Silver Lake (Dickinson) Dickinson west edge of Lake Park 1041.00
Rice Lake Winnebago 1 mile south, 1 mile east of Lake Mills 1000.00
Five Island Lake Palo Alto north edge of Emmetsburg 973.00
Lake Macbride Johnson 4 miles West of Solon 940.00
Three Mile Lake Union 3 miles northwest of Afton 880.00
DeSoto Bend at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Harrison 5 miles west of Missouri Valley at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge 811.00
Iowa Lake Emmet 6 miles north of Armstrong 802.00
Lake Manawa Pottawattamie Southwest edge of Council Bluffs 747.00
Little River Watershed Lake Decatur 1 mile west of Leon 743.00
Black Hawk Lake Sac east edge of Lake View 729.00
Brushy Creek Lake Webster 5 miles east of Lehigh 690.00
Lake Icaria Adams 4 miles north of Corning 648.00
Twelve Mile Creek Lake Union 4 miles east of Creston 635.00
Little Spirit Lake Dickinson 4 miles north of Orleans 604.00
Browns Lake Woodbury 2 miles west of Salix 580.00
Lake Sugema Van Buren 3 miles southwest of Keosauqua 574.00
Green Island Lake Jackson 1m E green Island 526.00
High Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 467.00
North Twin Lake Calhoun 4 miles north of Rockwell City 453.00
Lake Delhi Delaware 3m W Delhi 448.00
Pleasant Creek Lake Linn 4 miles North of Palo 401.00
Lost Grove Lake Scott Six miles east of Eldridge 400.00
Badger Lake Monona 380.00
West Swan Lake S.W.M.A. Emmet 3m SE Gruver 379.00
Snyder Bend Lake Woodbury 1 1/2 miles west of Salix 375.00
Swan Lake Dickinson 2m N Superior 371.00
Ingham Lake Emmet 6 miles east of Wallingford 357.00
Green Valley Lake Union 2 1/2 miles northwest of Creston 338.00
West Lake (Osceola) Clarke 2 miles west of Osceola 320.00
Carter Lake Pottawattamie North edge of Carter Lake. 315.00
Lake Darling Washington 4 miles west of Brighton 303.00
Lake Wapello Davis 7 miles west of Drakesville 289.00
Badger Creek Lake Madison 5 miles southeast of Van Meter 276.00
Lake Belva Deer Keokuk 5 miles northeast of Sigourney 264.00
Middle Sabula Lake Jackson W edge Sabula 260.00
Martens Lake Bremer 1 mi E of Tripoli 255.00
Lower Gar Lake Dickinson ½ mile south of Arnolds Park 251.00
Summit Lake Union West edge of Creston 250.00
Little Wall Lake Hamilton 1 1/2 miles south of Jewell 249.00
Crystal Lake Hancock north edge of Crystal Lake 244.00
Lake Cornelia Wright 3 1/2 miles north, 2 miles east of Clarion 243.00
Center Lake Dickinson 2 miles west, 1/2 miles south of Spirit Lake 220.00
Hawthorn Lake (aka Barnes City Lake) Mahaska 1 mile south of Barnes City 182.00
Big Hollow Lake Des Moines 3 miles west of Sperry 178.00
Lake Geode Henry 4 miles southwest of Danville 174.00
Prairie Rose Lake Shelby 8 miles southeast of Harlan 173.00
Lake Anita Cass 1/2 miles south of Anita 159.00
Don Williams Lake Boone 5 miles north of Ogden 151.00
Morris Lake Lucas 3 miles east of Chariton 141.00
Lake Miami Monroe 5 miles southeast of Lovilla 140.00
Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake Story North side of Ames, west of Grand Avenue/Highway 69. 137.00
Viking Lake Montgomery 4 miles east of Stanton 136.00
Volga Lake Fayette Located 3 miles north of Fayette. 135.00
Brinker Lake Black Hawk N edge Waterloo 134.00
Deep Lakes Muscatine 130.00
South Sabula Lake Jackson 130.00
Waverly Impoundment Bremer 120.00
Minnewashta Lake Dickinson 1/2 mile south of Arnolds Park 118.00
Lake Ahquabi Warren 5 miles southwest of Indianola 114.00
Iowa Lake Iowa 5 miles North of Millersburg 107.00
Iowa River (Marshalltown to Coralville Lake) Iowa 104.00
Lake Fisher Davis 2 miles northwest of Bloomfield 100.00
Union Grove Lake Tama 4 miles South of Gladbrook 100.00
Swan Lake Carroll 3 miles southeast of Carroll 100.00
Diamond Lake Poweshiek 1 mile West of Montezuma 98.00
Grays Lake Polk Fleur Drive, Des Moines 96.00
Sand Lake Marshall On the Northeast edge of Marshalltown 95.00
Terry Trueblood Lake Johnson 1.5 miles south of Hwy 6 on Gilbert Street in Iowa City. 90.00
Cedar Lake Madison 2 miles northeast of Winterset 90.00
Beeds Lake Franklin 2 miles west, 1 mile north of Hampton 90.00
Bob White Lake Wayne 1 mile west of Allerton 89.00
Sweet Marsh Reservoir Bremer 85.00
Loch Ayr Ringgold 2 miles north of Mt. Ayr 83.00
Ellis Lake Lucas 1 mile east of Chariton 83.00
Backbone Lake Delaware 4m SW Strawberry Point 80.00
Lake Keomah Mahaska 6 miles east of Oskaloosa 78.00
Red Haw Lake Lucas 1 mile east of Chariton 76.00
Binder Lake Adams 1 mile northeast of Corning 76.00
George Wyth Lake Black Hawk N edge Waterloo 75.00
Otter Creek Lake Tama 6 miles Northeast of Toledo 74.00
Lake of Three Fires Taylor 3 miles northeast of Bedford 72.00
Corydon Reservoir Wayne West edge of Corydon 70.00
Littlefield Lake Audubon 4 miles east of Exira 70.00
Upper Pine Lake Hardin 1/2 mile east of Eldora 69.00
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