Monday, February 22, 2010

Crappie is a good word

Ages ago, the “sunfish series” was started. The big fish, the bass, the smaller fish having big mouths, and the smaller fish having the small mouths -- that weren’t smallmouths -- were covered. Most of these fish fed on worms, insects, invertebrates – to be covered soon -- and smaller fish. The sunfish family members preferring smaller fish remain.

Unlike the Model T Ford which only came in black, crappies come in black and white, but not literally.

Due to the Latin alphabetization, the white crappie, Pomoxis annularis (Rafinesque) comes first. “Rafinesque” is the biologist who identified this “annularis” species of the genus Pomoxis.

White crappie start spawning earlier than do other local sunfish. 57 to 73°F is their preferred range. Most spawning occurs between 61 and 68°F, and the fish nests in colonies. White crappie eggs hatch in approximately one day at 70 to 74°F, per a study by Morgan in 1954.

Black crappies, Pomoxis nigromaculatus (Laseur) prefer spawning in 64 to 68°F water, although a low of 58°F was recorded by Siegler and Miller in 1963. Black crappie eggs take longer than do those of their white crappie relatives. 57.5 hours at 65°F was recorded by Merriner in 1971.

Male crappies guard the spawning nests with more vigor than do most other sunfish. Both crappie types build nests near vegetation. Blacks hybridize with whites.

The white crappie has a moderately oblique mouth. These fish inhabit turbid rivers, sloughs and lakes, even over muddy bottoms especially when feeding, and in fast-warming bays in spring. The black crappie has an oblique mouth, and the fish is found in clear, lakes and impoundments having healthy, green aquatic plants providing plenty of prey and oxygen, and in larger streams and flowages, like Okauchee Lake.

Both Pomoxis versions feed on insects, crustaceans and small fish, but white crappies dine on fish throughout the year. Black crappie switch to benthic, or bottom-dwelling, insects during springtime.

Crappie are food for various larger species and when small for yellow perch. Gamefish feeding on crappie include walleye, pike, grass pickerel, and muskellunge. The great blue heron, American merganser, kingfisher and bittern find crappie to be quite tasty. Mink and otter find it easy to catch these sunfish.

White crappie cover the state, except in the very north. Longer living but slower growing black crappie blanket the state including in our northern counties. Black crappies can reach 10 years of age.

Years ago, the Wisconsin DNR found that waters having garfish and crappie produce bigger crappie. Due to less food, crappie in these cases will not stunt.

Surprisingly, non-native, aka “exotic,” carp can help black crappie populations increase by “converting the habitat from a weedy to a more open-water environment” says George C. Beckler in “Fishes Of Wisconsin.” Most cases see the removal of vegetation via weed killing or weed cutting as eliminating plants supporting natural, living crappie food and causing starvation and death.

In a 1957 experiment by Mraz and Cooper, black crappie, carp, largemouth bass, and bluegill were stocked in numerous ponds of the Delafield Hatchery. Five months later, the survival rate was carp in the lead with a whopping 95.5%. Largemouth bass lead the native fish with 49.5% while bluegills fared poorly at a mere 35.8%. Black crappies did slightly better at 44.0%.

Being popular with anglers means crappie have numerous nicknames. White crappie are called silver crappie, pale crappie, ringed crappie, crawpie, crappie, silver bass, white bass, and obvious misnomers such as newlight, bachelor, campbellite, white perch, strawberry bass, calico bass, tinmouth, papermouth, bridge perch, goggle-eye, speckled perch, shad and John Denson.

Many local black crappie nicknames refer to fishing techniques used in catching these fish, and common nicknames are shared with the white crappie.

For white and black crappie, use small minnows and various diminutive artificial baits such as Dick Smith’s Panfish Grubs, Pinkie Jigs, Beetle Spins, curly tail jigs and little crankbaits. The clear metalflake grub body on a yellow with black eyes Dick Smith Grub is the color pattern I created. The metalflakes imitate small fishes’ scales. Yellow and white grub bodies are also good.

Black crappie can stunt when there are too many fish and not enough food. Don’t feel guilty about keeping some crappie for a fish fry.

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