What Do Crappie Eat? A Quick Guide

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If you ask any crappie fanatic what these voracious fish eat, you’re likely to hear “Whatever I’m throwing!”

There’s some truth to that, too, as crappie aren’t known to be particular about what they consume. But the more you know about their natural prey, the better you can choose lures and live bait to catch them.

If you’ve wondered what crappie eat, we’ve got the answer below, where we discuss the diet of crappie throughout their life-cycle and seasons.

If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick answer to what crappie eat:

  • zooplankton
  • tiny insect-like water boatmen
  • grass or “ghost” shrimp
  • minnows, especially Threadfin shad and flatheads
  • immature pike, walleye, bluegill, and crappie
  • crayfish and small amphibians like frogs

Crappie Basics

Crappie are predictable, and it’s important to know their species and understand their behavior.

Species

As we’ve explained before, there are two species of crappie and a number of hybrids. The two primary papermouths are Pomoxis annularis and Pomoxis nigromaculatus, more commonly known as the white and black crappie, respectively. Hybrids include the Blacknosed and Magnolia.

We mention this because there are differences in diet that track these species lines, with the hybrids blurring these distinctions.

Feeding Behavior

All crappie are ambush predators, employing an energy-conserving style of hunting. Rather than roaming in search of a meal, crappie sit and wait, strike suddenly, and rarely chase a meal.

Most active in the 90 minutes at dawn and dusk, crappie are rarely daytime feeders. Night finds them quite active, however, and many anglers use this to their advantage.

What Do Crappie Eat?

Lifecycle

Crappie reproduce at an alarming rate, and in small ponds, they can quickly cause problems due to overpopulation. Indeed, the Magnolia hybrid is an attempt to control this issue, as fish of both sexes are sterile by design. That allows the stocking of ponds, lakes, and streams with no concern about long-term effects.

When crappie hatch from their eggs, eating is a priority, and they’ll begin feeding almost immediately. These tiny fry look for tiny meals, and they find the nutrients they need from microscopic animals like zooplankton, minute insects like water boatmen (family Corixidae), and other invertebrates like grass shrimp (genus Palaemonetes).

That may not seem like much, but it’s enough to fuel tremendous growth! Brad E. Hammers and N. Corey Oakley of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission explain that crappie fry will grow as much as four inches in the first year on this diet.

As crappie reach that size, roughly as long as your hand is wide, they’ll move to larger prey while still feeding on insects of all kinds. But they’ll start to turn toward immature fish of diverse species, from walleye to pike, bluegill to crappie.

Yes, they’re cannibalistic!

Mature crappie prey on shad and minnows of all kinds, but insects, crustaceans like crawfish, and small amphibians like frogs are definitely on the menu. You may have heard that crappie “feed up,” and while that’s largely true, they’re not going to pass up an easy meal on the bottom if they can find one.

Seasonal Variation

Mature crappie tend toward a diet of minnows and small fish–anything they can get their mouths around counts as a meal! But in winter and early spring, when a meal is harder to come by, they’ll revert to insects and crustaceans as primary food sources.

Variation by Species

Black crappie are drawn to clearer, cooler water with ample vegetation like weed beds. They eat plenty of minnows, but make a larger portion of their meals from invertebrates than white crappie.

By contrast, white crappie prefer murkier, stained water and feed primarily on things like shad and fathead minnows. They, too, will eat insects and crawfish, but they prefer minnows.

Myth Busted: Crappie Don’t Eat Crawfish

You’ve probably heard the rumor that crappie don’t eat crawfish. Whether that’s because they don’t “feed down” or don’t like the taste, this old chestnut refuses to die.

The truth of the matter is that crappie do eat crawfish, especially when other food sources are scarce. This is confirmed by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Delaware’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, and plenty of fishermen who’ve found crawfish or shells in their stomachs. Crappie aren’t picky when it comes to a meal!

Final Thoughts

We hope that this article has satisfied your curiosity about the feeding habits of crappie.

As experienced anglers can attest, knowing more about the diet of crappie can help you time your fishing to coincide with abundant or sparse natural prey items and assist you in selecting the right lure to get their attention.

Let us know if you found this helpful–we’d love to hear from you!

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