Pretty much everywhere you find crappie, you’ll find an equally healthy population of bluegill. But while both of these species are as fun to catch as they are delicious to eat, anglers new to the panfish game may be confused about which is which.
If you’re not sure how to tell the difference between crappie and bluegill, keep reading!
We’ll break down species identification and make it simple to know the difference at a glance.
Table of Contents (clickable)
How to Tell Crappie and Bluegill Apart: Basic Identification
Whether you call them papermouths, specks, silver perch, or sac-a-lait, crappie (mostly) come in two varieties: white and black, or as scientists identify them, Pomoxis annularis and Pomoxis nigromaculatus.
Record-setting crappie can grow to more than 16 inches, tilting the scales at over 5 pounds.
That’s incredibly rare.
More commonly, you’ll find them measuring 8 to 9 inches at about a ¼ pound.
Both of these crappie are nice keepers, but can you tell which is which?
Crappie species identification isn’t always cut and dry, and depending on the time of year and genetics of the population in your area, you may need to resort to tricks like counting dorsal fins.
Whichever of these species you catch, P. annularis and P. nigromaculatus share some common traits.
While not the same species, these two crappie share a lot of features in common.
Irrespective of which species of crappie you’re looking at, expect a relatively elongated body, a long sloping head, and a proportionately large mouth for body size. You’ll also find distinctive spots on the silver-green body.
Check out our crappie fishing tips
Lepomis macrochirus is the scientific name for the bluegill, but they’re also known as bream, brim, and copper nose. Growing to as long as 12 inches and 4 ½ pounds, they’re often found at the 8 to 9 inch mark, weighing in at about ¼ pound.
Obviously, size alone isn’t going to be a whole lot of help differentiating bluegill from crappie!
The steep forehead and dark blue gill plate are dead give-aways.
Bluegill share a lot of common features that are easy to spot. Expect a tall, steep head, a small mouth, and a round body. The biggest tell is the dark blue to black gill plate, which really sticks out against its gold to gold-orange scales.
Bluegill can also be dynamically colored, with bright blue highlights on their faces and sides.
Check out our bluegill fishing tips
Crappie vs. Bluegill: Checklist
Remember, variations will occur, and some fish won’t display every identifying characteristic of the species.
Keep these checklists in mind and know more than one identifying feature.
This crappie sports butter-yellow scales. How can you tell it’s not a bluegill?
- Sloping head
- Big mouth
- Silver to silver-green scales
- Distinctive spots
- Elongated body
This bluegill’s forehead isn’t very steep. How can you tell it’s not a crappie?
- Steep forehead
- Small mouth
- Gold to orange scales
- Distinctive blue to black gill plate
- Round body
- May sport bright blue highlights, especially along the jaw
Crappie vs. Bluegill: Cooking and Flavor
I’ve eaten a mountain of both!
And while there is a slight difference in flavor, the easiest way to tell the difference at the table is texture.
The flesh of bluegill is more firm than crappie, and especially in moist preparations like a good sauce piquante, crappie will tend to fall apart much like crab.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing!
For frying, my preference is bluegill.
Most people also find crappie slightly milder than bluegill, so for folks who object to a “fishy” taste, sac-a-lait is often better.
I’d recommend giving both a try, just to be scientific!