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Black Crappie and White Crappie Management and Fishing in Pennsylvania

Prepared by R. Lorantas, D. Kristine and C. Hobbs
PFBC Warmwater Unit

2005 (stocking numbers updated after 2005)


Goal: Maintain or enhance black crappie and white crappie sport fisheries through harvest management of naturally sustained black crappie populations and through habitat preservation and enhancement. Judiciously stock black crappies and white in compatible new and reclaimed habitats.


The black crappie and white crappie occurs throughout Pennsylvania and were originally indigenous to the Ohio River and Lake Erie Drainage. The Ohio drainage includes the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela river drainages. Black crappies typically occupy clear water reservoirs and lakes and slow moving rivers and streams within these drainages, whereas white crappie occupy waters exhibiting greater turbidity. Black crappie and white crappie stocking by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission into the Delaware, Susquehanna, and Potomac river drainages lead to colonization of waters within these drainages, and black crappie are now self-sustaining throughout Pennsylvania. Many natural warm-water lakes and man-made reservoirs in Pennsylvania contain self-sustaining black crappie and/or white populations. Generally in Pennsylvania black crappies and white crappies occur at lower densities in rivers and streams compared to lakes and reservoirs. An exception applies to power dam pools and navigation dam pools on rivers. Generally black crappies occur in more waters than white crappies and often out-number white crappies where both occur.

Black crappie and white crappie populations, both indigenous and those that have become naturalized are managed for sport fishing through harvest management, habitat management, habitat enhancement, and through stocking. Stocking typically occurs in conjunction with establishing a self-sustaining black crappie and/or white crappie population in newly filled or newly acquired reservoirs that do not contain crappie or contain low-density crappie populations. Stocking is typically carried out from one to several years to establish a self-sustaining population. Since 1974 fingerling and adult black crappie have been stocked to establish or enhance populations (Table 1). Black crappie populations in Pennsylvania waterways are not sustained through annual maintenance stocking. Similarly, since 1987, white crappie fingerling and adults have been stocked to establish or enhance populations. White crappie populations in Pennsylvania waterways are not sustained through annual maintenance stocking.

Year Black Crappie White Crappie
Adult Fingerling Adult Fingerling
1974 40 71,450 0 0
1975 300 20,500 0 0
1976 1,050 14,500 0 0
1977 550 58,150 0 0
1978 2,077 14,750 0 0
1979 961 26,700 0 0
1980 390 25,600 0 0
1981 327 10,420 0 0
1982 0 126,150 0 0
1983 0 111,600 0 0
1984 0 18,000 0 0
1985 0 18,000 0 0
1986 0 173,000 0 0
1987 0 66,500 0 10,000
1988 775 35,900 0 0
1989 0 0 0 0
1990 0 83,000 0 0
1991 0 111 0 0
1992 1,323 6,245 0 0
1993 1,195 297,228 734 0
1994 644 54,647 663 0
1995 950 38,078 1,100 0
1996 760 73,100 0 0
1997 600 575,350 678 0
1998 2,066 10,639 900 0
1999 0 600 451 0
2000 1,140 2,911 135 0
2001 500 253,122 0 0
2002 500 98,624 0 300
2003 0 845 0 1,075
2004 0 4,735 0 8,088
2005 0 193,786 0 1,200
2006 0 270,373 0 1,958

Latest Stocking Information

With respect to harvest management, inland regulations accommodate harvest of 50 panfish, combined species, which includes black crappie, white crappie and other species. No minimum size limit or seasonal restrictions apply. The black crappie and white crappie are generally considered a prolific species, which has lead to liberal harvest rules. In some cases crappie can become too dense and grow slowly which results in few individuals attaining desirable size. Liberal harvest is desired in these circumstances where less competition for food resource leads to faster growth. Despite liberal harvest rules the average creel size of anglers completing their fishing trip in Pennsylvania who have kept at least one crappie is 4 crappies. Angler creels range from no crappie kept to 50 kept. Low average harvest reflects an increased practice of catch and release fishing, in some cases, anglers may encounter few crappie of desirable size in the population. Many small crappies may result from slow growth, or result from angler removal of desirable size black crappies such that small size specimens remain.

Fishery biologists faced with many slow growing crappie in reservoirs may elect to reduce refuge habitat through vegetation control, bolster predator densities or a combination of both. To reduce refuge habitat planned over winter partial draw-down will freeze and desiccate near shore vegetation and serve to concentrate predators and prey over winter. The intent is to thin crappie numbers to enhance their growth (size). In addition, predator density might be enhanced through predator (walleye) stocking or though application of predator harvest restrictions, such as Big Bass regulations. Biologists may also prescribe addition of habitat devices that attract crappie, these devices bolster angler harvest. What determines the specific course of action on a particular water body relates to features as diverse as the species of aquatic plants susceptibility to control through water level management, to the ability of the resource to sustain an increased density of predators. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has an active corps of volunteers that assist in construction and placement of structures after an approved habitat plan has been developed. We encourage organizations interested in volunteering time to contact our Habitat Unit.

If the biologist is faced with angler harvest reducing density of desirable size black crappie and white crappie, harvest restrictions may be applied though selective application of Panfish Enhancement regulations. In this program, for example, black crappie and white crappie harvest is limited to specimens 9 inches or greater with a maximum daily harvest of 20 combined species. The effectiveness of this size enhancement program in Pennsylvania is under evaluation. Biologists regularly sample fish populations to measure their density and size structure and examine fish habitat by measuring water productivity, and aquatic vegetation density. Following such evaluations management plans are prescribed to enhance density and size structure of black crappie where feasible.

In conjunction with these evaluations growth of black crappie and white crappie is examined by measuring length, weight, and taking a scale sample to determine age. In Pennsylvania, a 9 inch crappie is approximately 4 years old (Fig. 1) and weighs 0.5 pounds, when crappie are 12 inches in length they are approximately 8 years old and weigh approximately 1 pound. We have tabulated average ages and weights for a variety of lengths of black crappie in Pennsylvania (Table 2). Anglers find these tables useful in approximating the weight and age of their catch. In standard biological collections, the decrease in relative or absolute number of black crappie and white crappie at each age, can be used to describe the total annual mortality rate of black crappie. On average the total annual mortality rate is 62% for each species, which includes annual losses due to fishing and loss due to natural causes such as predation and disease. Examination of age structure allows biologists to index annual production of young black crappie and white crappie. Growth of crappie, recruitment of young crappie to the population and loss of older crappie are important considerations in developing harvest regulations that produce desirable size crappie for harvest.

Figure 1. Average length of black crappies and white crappies collected by fisheries biologists in assessment gear in Pennsylvania (March-June).

Figure 1

Inches Pounds Years Pounds Years
4 0.1 1 0.1 0.8
4.5 0.1 1.2 0.1 1.1
5 0.1 1.5 0.1 1.3
5.5 0.1 1.8 0.1 1.6
6 0.1 2.1 0.1 1.9
6.5 0.1 2.4 0.1 2.2
7 0.2 2.7 0.1 2.5
7.5 0.2 3 0.2 2.8
8 0.3 3.4 0.2 3.1
8.5 0.3 3.8 0.3 3.4
9 0.4 4.2 0.3 3.8
9.5 0.5 4.7 0.4 4.2
10 0.5 5.2 0.4 4.6
10.5 0.6 5.8 0.5 5
11 0.7 6.5 0.6 5.5
11.5 0.9 7.2 0.7 6
12 1 8 0.8 6.5
12.5 1.1 9 0.9 7.1
13 1.3 10.3 1.1 7.7
13.5 1.5 11.9 1.2 8.4
14 1.7 14.3 1.4 9.1
14.5 1.9 18.8 1.5 10
15 2.1 > 18.8 1.7 11
15.5 2.4 > 18.8 1.9 12.1
16 2.6 > 18.8 2.1 13.5
16.5 2.9 > 18.8 2.4 15.2
17 3.2 > 18.8 2.6 17.5
17.5 3.6 > 18.8 2.9 > 17.5
18 3.9 > 18.8 3.2 > 17.5
18.5 4.3 > 18.8 3.5 > 17.5
19 4.7 > 18.8 3.8 > 17.5

Tabulating catch and harvest by anglers from various waterways is also essential in developing harvest regulations. Information derived from creel surveys yields information of interest to anglers since seasonal peaks in catch occur for most species. Black crappie and white crappie can be caught most any time of year, generally though, highest catch per hour occurs in spring and fall (Figs. 2, 3, and 4). In spring, at spawning time, brood guarding adults are concentrated and quite vulnerable to anglers. Large reservoirs and lakes yield catch rates in winter (ice season) that exceed those in other seasons (Fig. 3). With fishing destinations identified from maps on this site and information describing the best seasons to catch crappie, anglers need only select an effective bait or lure. Crappies typically build nests at deeper locations than other panfish such as bluegill. Most anglers were introduced to crappie fishing by fishing with a minnow and bobber combination. However small jigs and spoons slowly trolled or drifted can be attractive baits. Adjustable depth slip bobbers provide a great method for shore anglers to adjust a bait to different depths. The abundance of crappie in many waters across the state, the ability to catch them in summer, fall, and through the ice in winter, makes them an especially popular panfish.

Figure 2. Average catch per angler hour of black crappies and white crappies, from medium size Pennsylvania reservoirs.

Figure 2

Figure 3. Average catch per angler hour of black crappies and white crappies from large size Pennsylvania reservoirs.

Figure 3

Figure 4. Average catch per angler hour of black crappies and white crappies from Pennsylvania rivers.

Figure 4

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