Tennessee Lake Management and Tennessee Pond Management: Crappie in Ponds

Crappie are a favorite sportfish in the U.S., and many pond owners want to stock them in their ponds. However, crappie tend not to do well in smaller impoundments, which is why most states including Tennessee recommend not stocking them. While there has been research in the last two decades geared toward finding a workable management approach for crappie in ponds, to date, such an approach has not been found. One of our competitors announced to the fisheries community in 2006 that they had found a method that worked; now that same company is back to disrecommending crappie like everyone else. (There are fish sellers out there that will tell you that crappie work fine in ponds, but you’ll never find a reputable biologist who will recommend them.) The world record black crappie was just caught last year from a pond, and a Tennessee pond no less; but our experience has been that when we find crappie in a pond, they almost invariably are in poor condition, and the largemouth bass and bluegill also tend to be in worse condition than they are in ponds without crappie.

Here are a few quick facts pertinent to why crappie are a bad idea in your pond:

Black crappie begin spawning at water temperatures as low as 13 degrees Celsius (55.4 Fahrenheit) (Culpepper and Allen 2016).

Black crappie have been found to overpopulate lakes as large as 20 hectares (49 acres) (Busack and Baldwin 1988, Mitzner 1991).

One female black crappie can produce up to 188,000 eggs (Riso 2011).

Largemouth bass begin spawning at 15 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit) (Davis and Lock 1997). Females average 4,000 eggs per pound of bodyweight.

Bluegill begin spawning at 19.4 C (67 Fahrenheit). One female bluegill can produce up to 80,000 eggs in a season (Pierce and Hicks 2012).

Because crappie spawn before either largemouth or bluegill, the crappie fry have already decimated the zooplankton in a pond by the time the bass and bluegill fry hatch out, which leads to many bass and bluegill fry starving. Additionally, the crappie fry are large enough to consume the bass and bluegill fry by the time the latter hatch, which further reduces the recruitment of those two species. These factors combined with the much-higher fecundity of crappie compared to bass or bluegill inevitably lead to the crappie overpopulating the pond at some point.

Because crappie spawns can vary widely in success, sometimes a pond can go along for a few years, and everything seems fine: the crappie are growing well and have not overpopulated. But it only takes one big spawn for your pond to be full of tens of thousands of four-inch-long crappie that are so thin you can practically see through them, and at that point, there is nothing that can be done to salvage the pond short of rotenoning the entire fish population and re-stocking from scratch.