Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), part of the sunfish family, has the same general shape as other sunfish. It is an introduced, non-native species to Lake George, but is an important prey species for largemouth bass and yellow perch. Crappie taste excellent and their aggressiveness allows for a fast and furious fight for anglers. They are an indicator species meaning they are intolerant of water quality degradation including silt and turbidity, and can only be found in clean waters. Besides Lake George, they can be found in The Great Lakes, the Hudson River and are generally distributed throughout New York State; but are not very common in the Adirondacks.
Crappies are pale silvery white on the belly and sides, and dark green on top. A dark vertical bar can be seen through the eye region. They have a high compressed, diamond shape body, like other species in the sunfish family. Crappies have more than three anal spines, a short dorsal fin with 6-8 spines and a long base of the dorsal fin. They have been known to hybridize with white crappie in bodies of water where their populations overlap.
Black Crappie can be found in clean bodies of water where there is abundant vegetation. Most often schooling near underwater structures such as logs, stumps, and rocks. During hot summer days they move into deeper waters or into shading areas of shore that have adequate riparian vegetation. In winter they move out to deeper water.
Spawning takes place in May – July when the water temperatures are higher than 68 degrees. Just prior to spawning, Black Crappie will school in large groups in the shallow water. Nests 8-9 inches in diameter are constructed by fanning depressions in the water that average between 10 inches to 2 feet deep. They are usually built in the sandy bottom of weedy areas in water 3- 8 feet deep. Females lay up to 60,000 eggs; they may spawn several times each spring after reaching sexual maturity at age 2-3. Eggs are less than 1 mm in diameter and will hatch in 3 to 5 days. After the female lays the eggs, she swims away and the male guards the eggs. He will stay with the young until they are able to feed. Crappie can live as long as 10 years and can get as big as 16 inches.
As fingerlings, crappie are a prey species for many other animals such as, perch, bass, pike, great blue herons, mergansers, snapping turtles, otter and mink. Young crappie feed on plankton and fingerlings of other fish species. Mature fish feed on insects. They will generally eat anything they can fit into their mouths. Crappie primarily feed at night, and are most active during the evening hours.
Black crappie is an excellent game fish, that is highly regarded by bait fishermen and artificial lure anglers. They are easily caught in the spring when they school prior to spawning. Crappie can be fished for all year long. The minimum length that can be kept is 9 inches; the daily limit is 25 fish.
Photo of Black Crappie by Eric Engbretson, Fish and Wildlife Service.