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Black Crappie

Black crappie is one of the most popular sport fish in Florida's fresh waters. Learn more about this species and ongoing black crappie research throughout the state.

Anglers describe their fishing habits to aid biologists in researching and monitoring the recreational fisheries at Lakes Dora and Beauclair.

Crappie anglers

Communities benefit when sport anglers invest time and money fishing local water bodies. Thus, it is important to assess the performance of a local fishery, and to help do that, biologists with the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) conduct angler surveys. These surveys provide valuable information on how many people are fishing, what kinds of fish they are targeting, and how many they are catching. In these surveys, biologists get their data directly from the key players in the fishery: anglers themselves. Using FWC's data on fishing expenditures and adjustments for inflation, biologists can also produce estimates on the economic value of a fishery.

Since 2004, angler surveys have been ongoing at Lakes Beauclair and Dora in central Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes. Data collected from November 2010 through April 2011 indicate that anglers

  • spent an estimated $1,022,000 fishing these lakes.
  • spent about 40,000 hours fishing.
  • directed 82% of their time fishing for black crappie (also known as specks or speckled perch) but only 15% for largemouth bass.
  • were mostly Florida residents (70%) and boat anglers (76%).

The data show that black crappie continues to be the most popular sport fish in Lakes Dora and Beauclair. Studies have shown strong numbers of young black crappie will soon enter the fishery, so the quality of this sport fishery should remain high for these two lakes in the coming years.

FWRI biologists thank the many anglers who participate in these surveys for sharing information that can benefit Florida's native sport fisheries and angling communities.

Study results guide decision to implement 10-inch limit on harvest of black crappie in Lake Griffin.

Process of tagging

Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) is one of the most sought-after freshwater sport fish in the U.S. Unlike black basses, which are typically caught and released, anglers harvest black crappie in large numbers with a greater focus on the dinner table. Lake Griffin, located in central Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes, has long been a popular spot for crappie fishing. For years anglers could fill their bag limits with quality crappie, 10 inches or bigger; however, the crappie fishery in the lake has declined in the past 40 years. During its peak in 1975, angler surveys reported 370,000 harvested crappie, but that number dropped below 50,000 by 2005. In 2008 and 2009, researchers from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) conducted a study to determine how management actions might improve the fishery.

Researchers conducted angler surveys in 2009 during peak crappie season to estimate the number of hours anglers spent fishing for crappie, how many crappie they caught per hour and how many fish were harvested and removed from the lake. To estimate the percentage of the crappie population removed from the lake, researchers conducted a reward-based tagging study. At the end of 2008, FWRI freshwater fisheries biologists collected crappie for tagging using haul seine nets and electrofishing. They tagged 446 crappie, with tag rewards ranging from $5 to $200, and then distributed tagged fish evenly throughout the lake. Biologists also collected carcasses from various fish camps to determine the sizes and ages of harvested crappie. Biologists used this information and data from standard trawl sampling to estimate the percentage of crappie removed by anglers and the percentage dying from natural causes.  

With all this information in hand, researchers simulated the effects of three potential management strategies  – no limit, 9-inch limit and 10-inch limit – on the annual crappie harvest from Lake Griffin.

Simulations produced the following best-case scenarios for the three options:

  • No limit: Anglers would harvest 48,000 crappie annually, totaling 29,000 pounds, with the average fish weighing 0.59 pounds.
  • Nine-inch limit:  Anglers would harvest 46,000 crappie annually, totaling 28,900 pounds, with the average fish weight increasing to 0.64 pounds.
  • Ten-inch limit: Anglers would harvest 39,000 crappie annually, totaling 27,700 pounds, with the average fish weight increasing even more to 0.72 pounds.
Crappie tag

With no size limit, anglers could fill their bags, but the size of the average fish harvested would be smaller. This scenario would not be sustainable for long; the number of fish reaching preferred sizes would continue to decline. As typical catches decrease in size, the amount of time anglers spend on the lake would also decline. A simulation of the 9-inch limit produced similar results to the no-limit scenario. The 10-inch limit could result in anglers not filling their bag limits, but harvested fish would be larger. This supports more long-term sustainability by ensuring smaller fish are released back into the lake, allowing them to grow and reproduce before being harvested.

Based on these findings, FWRI biologists recommended a 10-inch limit on harvest of black crappie in Lake Griffin to improve the long-term quality of the fishery. The majority of stakeholders surveyed supported the 10-inch rule proposal. The Commissioners approved the rule change, which was implemented July 1, 2012. Biologists will continue to collect data and monitor Lake Griffin during the next five years to evaluate the effects of the 10-inch limit.

A similar study is under way on Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County, where anglers voiced the same concerns about declining crappie catches in recent years. In late 2011, researchers caught and tagged crappie and distributed them evenly throughout the lake. This study is in its early stages and researchers are still collecting data. With continued cooperation between anglers and FWC staff, studies like these can help improve Florida’s freshwater fisheries.

While collecting black crappie carcasses for research, biologists notice fishing trends at three camps on central Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes.

Cooler of carcasses

Every winter, seasonal residents flock to central Florida fish camps to relax with a rod and reel. Often the reason they come is black crappie: a reliable source of seasonal income for many local businesses and a sought-after species throughout the state.

Biologists with the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) study the crappie fisheries in the Harris Chain of Lakes and other lakes in central Florida. To aid in the management of these lakes, biologists place coolers at fish camps and ask anglers to discard carcasses of filleted crappie in them. Several times a week from January to March, biologists return to the fish camps to exchange coolers and take carcasses back to FWRI's Eustis Fisheries Research Lab in Lake County for measuring and analysis.

Data gathered from 2009 through 2011 were recently analyzed for the crappie harvested from lakes Dora and Griffin in the Harris Chain (Tables 1 and 2). Reported carcass lengths reflect what anglers caught and kept for fillets.

Black crappie harvested from a fish camp on Lake Dora


Sampled: 580
Avg. Length (in): 11.47


Sampled: 894
Avg. Length (in): 11.73


Sampled: 489
Avg. Length (in): 11.52

Black crappie harvested from two fish camps on Lake Griffin


Sampled: 666
Avg. Length (in): 10.27


Sampled: 1,122
Avg. Length (in): 10.46


Sampled: 1,345
Avg. Length (in): 10.40

The data do not mean that the fish are necessarily smaller in Lake Griffin, but show that crappie anglers on Lake Griffin tended to keep smaller fish. The smallest recorded was 7.78 inches, an inch and a quarter smaller than the smallest from Lake Dora, 9.03 inches. However, Lake Griffin anglers also harvested the largest single fish each year--just over 15 inches, an inch larger than the largest on Lake Dora.

Biologists also observed differences between the two fish camps on Lake Griffin, designated "A" and "B."

  • Fish camp "A" had an average crappie length of 10.61 inches, compared with 10.24 inches at fish camp "B."
  • Anglers at fish camp "B" tended to keep crappie about one-third of an inch smaller than at fish camp "A" and 1 inch smaller than at Lake Dora.

Researchers are not sure why differences have developed at the three fish camps. The reason may have less to do with the crappie than with the anglers catching them.

The FWRI biologists at the Eustis Research Lab thank the anglers who participate in these carcass studies for sharing information that can benefit Florida's native sport fisheries and the angling communities that depend on them.

Black Crappie Length Limits FAQ

Biologists explain the science behind black crappie length limits and answer common questions from anglers.