By Vic Attardo
It’s the iridocytes.
The shinny sides of a white crappie are produced from chemicals produced by cells in the skin called iridocytes.
These same chemicals make photographing white crappies, particularly in strong light, a real pain, often causing a sunspot on the fish.
Fortunately, for fish photography, black crappies have a combination of iridocytes and chromatophores. The latter produce colors in the skin, namely the black checkered look or all the wonderful colors on a bluegill.
The overwhelming presence of iridocytes on white crappies and chromatophores on black crappies also tells you something about both species’ habits.
Since a fish’s coloring is an indicator of habitat preference, the pale silver color of a white crappie signifies that it’s usually a fish of deeper water living beside a monotone background, while the black crappie is a fish of shallow water and greenery.
That distinction is not 100 percent because white crappies can also be found in shallow water with a pale tint, such as a marly soft foundation.
I gave this concept a thought, but not in such formal terms, when fishing a wide bay on Lake Nockamixon. Tossing a small Rapala, I connected with a fine 14-inch white crappie swimming over – surprise, surprise – a dirt bottom with no weeds.
That spring I had concentrated on crappies, both white and black, and was trying to figure out if they had distinct food preferences.
I had taken black crappies in such weedy, shallow water as Hopewell Lake, part of the French Creek State Park, and even in a large farm pond where stocked black crappies thrived.
The white crappies I caught came from predictable places such as Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County. As for food preferences, both species were hot for fathead minnows served up on jigs, also soft plastic trailers behind jigs.
Beside minnows, black crappies were additionally inclined to take larva baits and worms and eagerly took nymph and streamer flies, but those successes were also based on the appropriateness of a fly-rod in shallow water.
Both species hit floating/diving minnow plugs, both jointed and straight, while small deeper-running crankbaits were excellent for white crappies at mid-depths, 9 to 15 feet. However, over time my first offering for either species became a white marabou jig, the size and weight dependent on the depth I fished.
These days white crappies dominate the public waters scene in the southeast mainly because the larger lakes are predominately bare bottomed. The further north one travels, namely above Blue Mountain and into the lower Pocono Plateau, black crappies take over the spotlight.
In Lake Nockamixon, the percentage of white and black crappies fluctuate widely. During some surveys at Nock, white crappies outnumber black crappies and sometimes it is the other way around. But it also a matter of where the biological surveys are performed and angler experience has been known to contradict those findings because anglers may concentrate in other habitat. Of any large lake in the upper southeast, located below Blue Mountain, Nockamixon offers the best chance of a 14-inch crappie.
White crappies were once the predominate take around the shores off the Green Lane Reservoir in Montgomery County. Under the Knights Road bridge is deep earth-tone bottom which whites favor. But in recent years, the annoyingly small white perch have taken over the 814-acre reservoir.
Blue Marsh in Berks County has higher numbers of white crappies, though the fish are often small. You should find fish in the 7- to 10-inch range around fallen trees in the main part of the lake.
One of the most popular places to fish for white crappies is along the riprap and bridge along Little Conestoga Road in the upper part of Marsh Creek Lake in Chester County.
On a nice day you’ll see anglers working the key spots where the back bay filters under the bridge, providing hot spots that stretch along the rocky shore. Occasionally a boater will come up lake to work this wide arm of Marsh Creek, but the shore fishermen actually have the upper hand here.
But Marsh Creek is another southeast water with both black and white crappies. The two species often intermingle their habitats on this 535-acre lake, yet the whites prefer the upper lake while the black crappies favor the shallower weedy bays of the main lake.
Black crappies availability in the southeast is limited, so for good black crappie fishing, I often head a tad north to Lake Tuscarora.
I also visit the shallow weedy lakes of the Poconos, such as the Lower Lake at Promised Land State Park and even the two pint-size impoundments of Decker Pond with fishing at the dam and Little Mud Pond.
I’ve even successfully worked the dam and also waded the upper end of Hidden Lake for black crappies. Overall I really like the tea-colored waters of the Poconos because black crappies there acquire such dense checkered patterns in the tannin.
As an honest assessment, none of the eastern Pennsylvania waters can hold a crappie candle to the likes of Pymatuning and Shenango on the west side of the state.
But if you are right-side resident, or traveling to the Poconos, good numbers of both white and black crappies will twitch your rod.