How to Stock a Pond or Lake With Crappie [Species, Prep & Regulations]
Crappies are popular as a sport fish for recreational anglers. They are closely related to many types of panfish as they are classified under the Centrarchidae family of sunfishes. Native to North America, these fish are known by a fair number of common names. Due to their speckled or seemingly pockmarked appearance, they may be called speckled bass, speckled perch, specks, or strawberry bass.
Apart from being angler favorites, crappies are occasionally stocked in ponds for the prime quality of their meat. Their highly diverse diet gives them a desirable nutritional profile and incredible taste. As a result, they were once commercially harvested in large densities in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and nearby states.
The idea of stocking ponds with crappie is generally met with two contrasting opinions. Some pond owners claim that these fish do not do well in ponds or even small lakes, particularly those which have largemouth bass populations. Their presence as early spawners can drastically damage the food web. Moreover, these fish require highly fertile bodies of water and diverse forage fish. Some pond owners especially favor them for “crappie-only” ponds, however, and may claim that there should be minimal issues as long as there is a sensible management plan.
Two Types of Crappies
1) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
The black crappie is more ideal for stocking in ponds compared to the white crappie. Native to the eastern regions of North America, this panfish is more likely to exhibit desirable growth rates. It is less prone to becoming overpopulated or stunted. Regardless, it is important to keep in mind that this fish will compete with other carnivores, particularly if their predators are absent.
Black crappies will not readily feed on artificial food (though they can be trained) and will require a steady supply of forage fish. They should not be stocked in small ponds or in those which have premature populations of bass or bream. Nonetheless, if their numbers can effectively be managed and controlled by self-sustaining populations of predatory fish, they make attractive additions to large ponds.
On average, black crappies grow to a maximum length of about 8 inches (20 cm). They possess distinctly compressed, greenish-gray to silver bodies. As indicated by their common name, they are generously covered with mottled black patches. They are best caught at around dusk, midnight, or closer to dawn, while they are feeding.
2) White crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
The white crappie has a higher growth rate and maximum length compared to the black crappie. Unfortunately, it is more likely to quickly crowd out a pond, particularly if it has depleted a fair share of the forage fish early on. Though these white-bellied crappies are morphologically very similar to black crappies, they are more likely to exhibit stunted growth. If you’d like to maintain a high-quality crappie population that can be sustained for a longer period of time, avoid stocking this species.
Another downside to stocking white instead of black crappies is their lower tolerance for handling. The former is associated with unsuccessful stocking rates as handled juveniles are less likely to survive minor damage. To accurately distinguish between the two, take a close look at their dorsal spines. White crappies usually have a maximum of 6 dorsal spines, whereas black crappies may have 7 or 8.
Pond Features for Crappie Cultivation
Unfortunately, not all types of ponds are able to support a thriving population of crappies. Ideally, crappie ponds should have a surface area of at least 2 acres. If the available area is smaller, the pond should not be stocked with large numbers of sunfish or bass on top of a small density of crappies, unless these are introduced as predators and are intended for population control.
A large pond size allowance is important. You may need to stock more predatory fish in the event that black crappie densities become unmanageable. If you’re bent on stocking crappie even if your pond is less than 2 acres, consider stocking hybrids of white and black crappie. These are less likely to overpopulate the pond due to their relatively slow growth rates. Hybrids may reproduce, but only a small percentage of their offspring are likely to survive to maturity.
Pond water clarity is extremely important for crappie ponds. Clear water ensures that these visual feeders can both feed and be preyed upon. Larger fish, which will feed on large amounts of small crappie, need to spot them to effectively remove them from the population. If a smaller crappie density is maintained, the surviving fish are more likely to grow into desirable catch sizes. Low coverage of pond vegetation is also ideal as this is necessary for both predators and forage fish to sustain their populations.
At the end of the day, it’s not so much the surface area or depth that truly influences the outcome of a crappie pond. Rather, it is how well-established the pond is when crappies are stocked, along with their size and density of fingerlings upon stocking. Established bass or bluegill populations are less likely to be significantly damaged by a low density of crappie fingerlings.
Timetable for Stocking Crappie
The best time to stock crappie fingerlings is in June, which is right after their spawning season. If you intend to stock adults (not advised unless you are determined to closely manage crappie populations), they can be introduced into the system just before April or May. In both cases, the pond should be well-established and have self-sustaining forage fish populations prior to stocking.
Note that it may take some time for crappie fingerlings to reach sexual maturity, so it may seem as though their introduction into the system may have at first been ineffective. Moreover, crappies may not spawn each year and may have varied spawning success rates. After about a year or two, you may be shocked to find that your pond is overcrowded with crappies. At this point, it may be necessary to increase the population of bass as they will deplete a portion of the crappies and allow the remaining ones to grow larger.
The density with which you stock black or hybrid crappie should be determined by your objectives for fish cultivation. For pond diversification, less than 50 individuals per surface acre may effectively even out your fish communities. If you intend to stock crappie as a gamefish alongside largemouth bass, bluegill, or catfish, you may opt to stock around 150 3 – 4-inch fingerlings per surface acre. However, if you intend to grow trophy-sized bass in your pond, it may not be ideal to stock a large number of crappies as they will compete with them for food.
Crappie stocking densities at the range of 100 – 200 fish per acre require a well-maintained predatory fishery. More conservative stocking values for personal ponds lie between 50 – 75 fingerlings per acre. Without the predatory fishery, the surviving crappies may quickly become overpopulated and are unlikely to reach a favorable harvest size of at least 7 – 8 inches. Those which grow to a maximum stunted size of 5 – 6 inches may be too small to produce a satisfying filet.
Keep in mind that rectifying overcrowding in ponds may be extremely difficult and costly. This is why your stocking plan must take growth trends, harvest capacity, and financial requirements of having to stock large, predatory fish into consideration.
Forage fish, such as fathead minnows, may be stocked a few months prior to introducing crappies into the system. These will aid in boosting the growth of both bass and crappies, though their numbers are likely to be severely depleted after just a year or two of predation. Avoid stocking types of forage fish that may be preferred by bass over crappie (e.g. gizzard shad).
How to Introduce Crappie Into a Lake or Pond
Crappie fingerlings should be carefully transported and acclimated before releasing them into your pond. Acclimation methods which work for other gamefish should be just as suitable for your crappies, though keep in mind that some types are more prone to damage from handling than others. Hybrid and black crappie fingerlings (anywhere from 2 – 5 inches) may be purchased from commercial hatcheries.
Aim to stock crappie fingerlings in fall, when ambient temperatures are mildest. Avoid stocking more than the recommended number of fish per acre, even if the hatchery provides an excess amount. If the fingerlings are packed in aerated plastic bags, float these in a shaded area of the pond for at least 20 minutes prior to releasing the fish. If the hatchlings are transported to your area in larger containers, you may gradually mix them into your pond water.
Acclimated hatchlings should have no issues making their way into deeper areas of the pond. If in doubt as to the ideal acclimation process for your crappie hatchlings, it would be best to consult the hatchery for tips. Avoid introducing wild-caught crappie, particularly adults, as they may introduce parasites and diseases into the pond system. Also, keep in mind that gravid crappies may quickly reproduce and damage your pond’s pre-existing ecology.
Crappies are one of the most challenging types of sports fish to manage in stocked ponds. Some conservative fisheries biologists may even recommend that they be avoided at all costs unless the pond is at least 25 acres.
Nonetheless, because crappie meat is so favorable and these fish are capable of increasing in length by about 7 to 9 inches within a single year, it will always be tempting to throw them into a recreational pond. Listed below are some important points to consider before investing in crappie fingerlings:
- Although it is possible to maintain a highly diverse gamefish pond, it takes expert management to obtain trophy-sized bass and crappies in one closed system. Pond owners will usually need to prioritize the growth of one over the other to come up with a sustainable stocking plan. Crappies can compromise the quality of bass and vice versa as they share the same prey items. Moreover, crappies tend to spawn earlier in the season, so bass fingerlings are less likely to survive.
- A “stock now, deal with problems later” mindset wouldn’t work for crappie ponds as they are bound to become overcrowded in the absence of well-established populations of predatory fish. Having multiple predators in a small pond, vying for the same sources of food, is likely to result in both low survival rates and stunted growth. Managing an overcrowded crappie pond can waste precious time and resources.
- Before stocking a pond with crappie, it would be best to consult with a fisheries biologist or your local department on wildlife and fisheries. Experts should be able to pinpoint certain aspects of your pond that may be unsuitable or require further development for crappie growth. They should also be able to help you determine optimal stocking rates for crappie and other fish, given your personal objectives for maintaining a pond.
- If your pond is smaller than 2 acres, save yourself the trouble and stick to species that are less likely to overpopulate ponds. Always think twice before adding crappies to a small pond. Try stocking a combination of bass, catfish, bluegill, and minnows.
- Never introduce crappies or any other types of fish into natural freshwater bodies as this is illegal. There are some cases where this would be allowed, but this would usually require the assistance of qualified biologists. Permits, which may involve the need for impact assessments, may also be required. Illegally introducing crappies to meet personal fishing demands may eventually lead to poor pond conditions and fish quality. Previous introductions of crappie in public waterways have led to invasive populations.