Every spring, an eons-old phenomenon takes place in the lakes and streams of southeastern states: the waters warm, crappie move shallow and become active, and fishermen rejoice. They reap the bounty brought on by the predictable behavior of the fair-fleshed fish.

That behavior not only fills fishermen’s coolers — even freezers — but also produces a new year-class of crappie to replace those caught on a hook, making sure the cycle is unbroken.

While there is a solid argument that bass are the most-popular fish in the Magnolia State, crappie ­— at least in the spring — have a solid edge in popularity.

A slab primer

Crappie are a river and stream fish that has adapted well to lake environments. While they can rapidly overpopulate a small lake when key predators cannot control the population naturally, they flourish in reservoirs and river systems. 

Two species are common in Mississippi, white and black crappie; the two can cross and create what is called a calico crappie. They can also be caught in the same schools and entering the spawning period at the same time.

Biologists with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks developed a solution to the problem of small-lake over-proliferation by developing the “Magnolia crappie,” a sterile hybrid of black and white crappie. 

Crappies spawn annually in the spring. When waters warm to around 60 degrees, male fish move into shallow spawning areas and create “beds” around either grass or hard structure to attract later-arriving females.

During the prespawn, females stage in nearby deep water, waiting until their eggs are fully