Crappies have the deep and laterally compressed body commonly associated with sunfish. Their mouths are fairly large, typical of fish eaters, with the upper jaw extending below the eye. Dorsal and anal fins are large and similar in shape. Black crappies are typically silvery-gray to white with black mottling. During spawn they often take on a blackish coloring. While frequently confused with white crappie, they are readily distinguished by counting the dorsal spines. Black crappie has 7-8, whereas the white have 6 or less. Thanks to stocking, black crappie can be found throughout much of the United States. Their maximum size is under 20 inches and around 5-6 lbs.
Black crappies prefer clear water with an abundance of aquatic vegetation. Before spawn, they from large schools and move shallow to feed. Crappies are nest builders and spawn in late spring when water temperatures approach 60 degrees. They nest in the spring, generally when water temperatures reach 60°F. Nests are guarded by the males, much the same as other sunfish.
Crappies prefer to feed during early morning and evening periods, but are often active during the day and late into the evening. Smaller fish feed on a large variety of crustaceans, insect larva and plankton. Larger fish typically prefer small fish, such as minnows.
Popular with anglers, crappie can be caught on a large number of lures and live bait and are highly prized for their table quality. Regardless of what method an angler uses to catch they, care is required when setting the hook and playing crappie, as their paper thin mouths are easily torn.
Black Crappie in Florida
The following is courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
Appearance: A deep body with nearly symmetrical dorsal and anal fins and a speckled pattern on the body and fins identify the black crappie.
Habitat: Unlike most other panfish, crappie spend much of their time offshore feeding on small fish in lakes or in large slow-moving clear water rivers.
Behavior: They nest in colonies from February to April. Nests are fanned by males over gravel or muddy bottoms in depths of 3-8 feet, with big fish deeper. Primary food items are crustaceans, aquatic insects and small fishes.