JACKSON, Mississippi — The crappie spawn is one of the most anticipated events in fishing for many Mississippi anglers. It's perch-jerking at its finest and produces untold numbers of the tastiest fillets around.
In much of the state, it occurs between March and May with fish moving shallow to lay eggs. But what's really going on down there?
Male crappie will move into shallow water with some sort of structure or vegetation first and wait for females to join them. Black crappie tend to move shallow sooner.
This ritual, according to Rick Dillard, of the U.S. Forest Service, is triggered by water temperature.
Dillard, a biologist, said the eggs have a sticky coating which allows them to adhere to brush, vegetation or other structure. While crappie will fan the substrate with their tails, they don't create the deeper depressions associated with largemouth bass or bream beds.
Once the eggs are laid and fertilized, the females move out and the males remain to stand guard.
The spawn is also when males turn much darker than the females. Dillard explained that it is a phenomena known as sexual dichromatism and is caused by a change in hormones.
"As it approaches the spawn they are going to start turning colors," Dillard said. "It's the pigmentation in their skin."
Fishermen sometimes think male crappie in their spawning colors are black crappie.
Larry Bull, assistant director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' Fisheries Bureau, said the confusion is common.
"All the time, sure," Bull said. "We probably go through that with 8 to 10 parties in our creel survey in the spring."
Black crappie are silver with black spots or specks in a somewhat random pattern. White crappie are silver with black specks forming vertical bands on them.
Bull said they can also be identified by counting the hard spines on the dorsal fin. Black crappie will have 7-8 and white crappie will have 5-6.
Another aspect of the spawn that produces varying opinions is the bite. When a spawning fish grabs a bait, is it trying to eat it or kill it to protect the eggs?
Bull and Dillard were both unsure.
"Probably nobody knows," Bull said. "We can all speculate. I can speculate all day long."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com
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