Game Fishing > Sunfish Family, Centrarchidae > Crappie


CrappieThe crappie was first described by Rafinesque in 1818 from specimens collected at the Falls of the Ohio, near Louisville, Kentucky. He named it annularis, "having rings," as it was said to have "a golden ring at the base of the tail,"but I have never seen it it does have a gold ring, however, around the iris of the eye, and this was probably the occasion of the name.

Like the calico-bass, the crappie has received a great many local names. In the northern region of its range it is variously known as white croppie, crappie, barfish, bachelor, etc., and in Kentucky as newlight, Campbellite, and tin­mouth, while farther south it is called silver perch, speckled perch, goggle-eye, sac-a-lait, shad, etc.

It inhabits the Ohio and Mississippi river basins from Kansas to Louisiana and Texas, and is more abundant in Kentucky and other Southern states than farther north. Its range, however, has been extended by transplantation to many states. In general features it resembles the calico-bass very much, though to the trained eye the differences are very apparent. It is not quite so deep nor so robust as the calico-bass.

The mouth is somewhat larger, and the snout more prominent or projecting on account of a depression or indentation in front of the eye. The eye is a little larger, and the membrane of the jaws is quite thin and transparent, hence one of its names, "tin-mouth." The crappie has but six spines in the dorsal fin, whereas the calico-bass has seven, whereby they may be readily distinguished.

It grows to about the same size and weight as the calico-bass, ten or twelve inches, though under favorable conditions it grows larger, reaching a weight of three pounds. I have frequently taken it as heavy, or a little heavier, in Kentucky, where many ponds and streams seem peculiarly fitted for it.

In coloration it is much paler than the calico-bass, and the markings are not so dark or in such large spots or blotches. It is silvery olive-green, much mottled with a darker shade of same color, especially on the back, the lower sides and belly being more silvery and seemingly translucent. The dorsal and caudal fins are much mottled with shades of green, though the anal fin is almost plain. The iris of the eye is dark, with a silvery or golden border.

It is found in clear streams and likewise in still, weedy ponds and bayous, or in all situations adapted to the large-mouth black-bass, with which fish it is nearly always associated. It is admirably suited for pond culture. It is quite gregarious and loves to corigregate about the submerged top of a fallen tree or sunken brush, and about mill­dams. It feeds on all small aquatic organisms and insects and their larvae, and the fry of other fishes, tadpoles, etc.

While a very free-biting fish, its game qualities, when hooked, are not remarkable. It is pulled out with scarcely a struggle. It is rather a shy fish, withal, and must be fished for cautiously, and with little noise or confusion. When these precautions are observed, and with very small minnows for bait, nearly the entire school can be captured in a short time. It is an excellent pan­fish, and on this account is a prime favorite.

For still-fishing, a light rod of a few ounces in weight, and a line of the smallest caliber, size 3, should be used. Hooks for bait-fishing should be about No. 3, as the crappie has a large mouth; they should be tied on gut snells. A quill float is useful in weedy places, or about brush and logs. The best bait is a very small minnow, hooked under the dorsal fin, care being taken not to injure the spinal cord. Soft crawfish, cut-bait, or earthworms may be substituted where minnows are scarce. A reel is not necessary for bait-fishing, but a short leader should always be used, and where required a split-shot sinker is heavy enough.

For fly-fishing, the lightest trout fly-rod and the smallest click reel should be employed, with a braided, enamelled line of the smallest caliber, and dark or grayish flies of small size, on hooks number 4, on gut snells, with a fine leader. The most useful flies are gray, red, and black hackles, black gnat, blue dun, gray and brown drake, and stone fly; but far the best fly that I have ever used is the Henshall of a small size. It has a body of green peacock harl, hackle of white hairs from a deer's tail, gray wings, and tail of a fibre or two from the tail feather of a peacock; they will rise to this fly when no other will tempt them to the surface. Toward sunset, with the tackle named, on a breezy summer day, the angler will be amply rewarded, for under these conditions fly-fishing for the crappie is a sport not to be despised.

It has been alleged that the name "Campbellite," by which the crappie is sometimes known in Kentucky, was bestowed because the fish first appeared in Kentucky streams about the same time that the religious sect founded by Alexander Campbell became established in that state. This may have been the origin of the name, but I am inclined to doubt it from the fact that the crappie has probably always inhabited Kentucky streams, inasmuch as it was first described by Rafinesque in 1820 from Kentucky waters. He gave gold ring and silver perch as the common names then in vogue for it at Louisville.

I think it more likely the name originated in this wise: among the many names given to this fish is "newlight," probably owing to its bright and apparently translucent appearance; and as this name was also bestowed by some on the religious sect referred to, the names newlight and Campbellite became interchangeable for both fish and sect. It is, however, seldom called Campbellite, while newlight is the most universal name for it in central Kentucky. The name crappie, or croppie, has an unknown derivation; perhaps it comes from the French crepe, a "Pan-cake," from its shape or deliciousness when fried, for it was always a great favorite with the French of St. Louis and the creoles of Louisiana. In the latter state it is also known as sac-a-lait, "bag for milk"(?).

Great numbers of crappies are annually seined from the shallow bayous and sloughs bordering the Illinois and Mississippi rivers by the United States Fish Commission, and planted in suitable waters. If allowed to remain in the sloughs, which dry up in the summer and fall, they would eventually perish.