Many novice crappie anglers have a hard time distinguishing between the two similar species of crappie. Most agree that with a little experience, it’s easy to tell the difference between the two:
- Black crappie have irregular, dark blotches or speckles on their sides and either seven or eight dorsal fin spines. Because of these markings, they’re often referred to as “specks”.
- White crappie have five to ten vertical bands and only five or six dorsal fin spines.
- The distance from the eye to the dorsal fin is equal to the length of the dorsal fin base in black crappie.
- The distance from the eye to the dorsal fin is greater than the length of the dorsal fin base in white crappie.
- Black crappie have a smaller mouth structure overall and often prefer smaller baits.
- White crappie have a larger mouth structure making them more adaptable to larger baits.
- White crappie tolerate murkier water better than black crappie and prefer a more open water, or pelagic, habitat.
- Black crappie thrive better in clear water and can tolerate higher salt content as well as showing a preference for shallow weedy areas.
Armed with the knowledge of how to tell them apart, let’s take a look at what some of our pros have to say about the differences between finding and catching black and white crappie:
John Harrison (Grenada Lake, MS crappie guide) – “Black crappie are more structure oriented. To find them, you need to go to the thickest, darkest area you can find on a lake and jig for them. They also like shallower water, year round, on average; they’ll be in 5 – 9 feet of water. White crappie suspend a lot more than black crappie, not that they don’t get around structure, but they’re more inclined to suspend over structure while black crappie will be dug down in it. Whites also like deeper water, they’ll be found in 14 – 25 feet of water, especially in the summer, and that makes them a better target for trolling.”
Ronnie Capps (Reelfoot Lake, TN guide, Conservation Officer, and TV show Host)-
“Black crappie definitely eat more invertebrates, bugs and such, almost like a bream. I’ve even seen them with a belly full of frogs - some of the ones I caught and cleaned out of Reelfoot were full of them. On the other hand, white crappie eat more fish, and they eat bigger fish than most people think they do. Steve (Coleman) and I came across a big ole’ white crappie one day that had half way swallowed a 10 inch drum.
I’ll tell you something else, because they eat more fish, the meat of a white crappie is sweeter than that of a black crappie. I’ve filleted them side-by-side, cooked them and held a taste test at a cookout. Everybody who tried them could tell the difference.”
Brad Whitehead (Wilson & Wheeler Lake, AL crappie guide) – “For me, I found out something really unusual by shooting docks at Wilson Lake. I’d catch 10 – 15 specks out from under one dock and not a white crappie in the bunch. Then I’d move down a couple of docks and catch half a dozen slab white crappie and not a speck mixed in. I guess it’s not all that unusual that they don’t hold under the same dock. I rarely catch both species from the same location anywhere. What I find amazing is that certain docks will hold black crappie and other docks will hold white crappie and that’s consistent from year to year.”
Whitey Outlaw (Santee-Cooper, SC tournament angler) – “One thing about white crappie, they love wood. That makes them a lot easier to pattern. A black crappie, he loves vegetation and he’ll move on you in a heartbeat. I hate to be fishing a two day tournament and catching black crappie because the next day you might go right back to where you caught them yesterday and they’re gone. White crappie pretty much stay where they are or at least in the same vicinity and they don’t move a whole lot.
Another thing about catching white crappie is they prefer a bigger bait and they like louder colors. I’m going to use a big tube jig in bright neon orange or pink or chartreuse when I’m out to catch white crappie. For a black crappie you need to use something smaller in a natural color and you’ll have to finesse him out of heavy cover.”
The more you know about your quarry, the easier they will be to catch. B’n’M is here to help. We make all kinds of rods, reels, tackle and instructional videos that will help you be a better angler and catch more crappie, both black and white. Visit us at www.bnmpoles.com