"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Fish--White and Black Crappies
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

With February and the Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show winding down almost as one, the focus on the Hoosier outdoor scene will zero in on fishing. The fish that comes first in the minds of most anglers is the crappie. 

Unlike some other species of game fish--notably bluegill and largemouth bass--the crappie does not wait for warming water temperatures to start providing fast action, both on the water and at the din-din table. 

The crappie hits fairly well throughout the winter--even through the ice--but when the sun starts creeping northward and its rays start hitting the water at a steeper angle, crappies get serious about finding something to eat which conditions their bodies for the coming spawning season. 

To learn more about crappies and crappie fishing, we visited Monday with William "Bill" James, a fisheries biologist for the Division of Fish and Wildlife for more than 30 years, the last 20 or so of which he served as chief of the Fisheries Section. 

James was back at his old banana stand full time Monday, having relinquished the title and interim duties as director of the DFW for some nine months (since long-time DFW employee Gary Doxtater retired from the top job). For the record, Glen Salmon, Doxtater's assistant for more than a year and a long-time Fisheries Section employee of the DFW and assistant to Doxtater, was elevated to the top job last Saturday when John Goss, director of the Department of Natural Resources, announced the changes at the annual meeting of the Hoosier Outdoor Writers Association (HOW). 

Thus, after congratulating James on getting back to riding herd on the DFW's Fisheries Section (which is where his heart lies), and forgetting the chores that have taken this love away from him for this lengthy spell, we asked him to tell us more about crappies. It was like waving the proverbial red flag at the bull of the same ilk. 

James knows the fishes of Indiana upside down, inside out, backwards  and by all other measures. 

First he told us that Indiana hosts both of the major species of crappies. That would be the black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis). 

He says that while both crappie species will be found through the state, the black is more at home in the state's natural lake country where water is deep and clear. Contrariwise, the white likes water that is more shallow and even murky, like the big impoundments of the southern part of the state. 

The black, James says, is heavily spotted on head and sides with black or blueish splotches on a silverish or olivish background. It has seven or eight spines in the dorsal fin 

The white sports more of a silverish color and the dark side markings tend to show up as  ertical stripes, as opposed to spots. The white usually will have five or six spines in the dorsal fin. 

"These are pretty good identification features," James says, adding that a foolproof  identification can at times be confounded by a fish with seven spines and other features that indicate the fish may be a white. 

In this case, James says, you measure the distance from the tip of the nose to the base of the first dorsal spine. If this distance is about the same length as the dorsal fin, it is a white, he says. 

How about cross breeding?, we asked. Do blacks and whites cross breed? 

It is possible, James says, but he does not believe it happens often. Certainly many of our waters  host both black and white crappies, James says, but their nesting habits differ somewhat, especially in depth of nesting efforts. He also says that when both white and black crappies are present in the same body of water, one will dominate. 

Incidentally, James says that our extremely-mild winter could put crappies on the feed even earlier this year than they usually launch their pre-spawn feeding binge. So get after them. 

NEXT WEEK:  How to catch crappies. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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