About crappie: It’s as clear as black and white

The Louisiana state fish is something special.

In 1993, the Louisiana Legislature picked a state fish. It wasn’t the much-hyped tournament fish, the largemouth bass; it wasn’t any one of the glamorous snapper species; it wasn’t even the beloved speckled trout.

It was the white perch, a.k.a. crappie.

It kinda shows you where our priorities are in Louisiana. Let’s face it: Crappie are pretty anemic fighters, especially compared to their spunky little cousin, the bluegill. They give a protesting wiggle, flop once or twice, and then largely give up to be hauled in.

Oh, but those fillets! The South Louisiana Cajun name for them — sac-a-lait — describes it all — sack of milk. With incredibly white, flaky, mild and sweet flesh, crappie are likely the most popular food fish in Louisiana.

Native throughout the eastern and Midwestern states, crappie carry a lot of local names, including specks, speckled perch, calico bass, strawberry bass, papermouths and Oswego bass. Locally, they are invariably called white perch in north and central Louisiana and sac-a-lait in the southern part of the state.

Local names can be an incredible source of confusion. A perfect example occurs on the website stateanimals.com. There they list the “white perch” as our state fish, which is how it was deemed by the Legislature. The beautiful accompanying illustration is of the “real” white perch, Morone americana, a fish in the striped bass family found exclusively in tidal waters of the mid-Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay.

Our fish, or perhaps we should say “fishes” because there are two species lumped together, are the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis) and the black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus).

Biologists use scientific names purposefully to avoid the confusion of local names. The derivation of the name Pomoxis apparently is Greek and refers to the sharp-edged opercula, or gill covers, of the fish. Annularis is Latin for “annual” or “one year old.” Nigromaculatus, also Latin, means “black-spotted,” an accurate description of the color of black crappie.

The rest of this story, which first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Louisiana Sportsman magazine, can be read in our online archives.

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About Jerald Horst 959 Articles
Jerald Horst is a retired Louisiana State University professor of fisheries. He is an active writer, book author and outdoorsman.

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