Crappie vs. Bluegill – How To Tell The Difference

By Get Fishing •  Published: 01/12/23 •  7 min read

The Crappie and Bluegill share many similarities, and it’s not surprising that they may be hard to tell apart. These fish are some of the favorites among fishermen. Let’s take a closer look at what makes each stand out as we compare crappie vs bluegill. 

Crappie vs Bluegill

Is a Crappie the Same as a Bluegill?

The Crappie (Pomoxis) is not the same fish species as the Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus). However, both fish belong to the Sunfish family, making them close relatives. These species share some distinct similarities but are ultimately two very different fish. 

What’s the Difference Between Crappie vs Bluegill? 

For starters, there are two types of Crappie: a White Crappie and Black Crappier. Bluegill don’t have distinct types, however they may hybridize (breed with other, similar fish to create a cross). Both fish are considered panfish, but they vary in size. They can also be found in different habitats and native ranges. 

What is a Crappie?

black crappie

The Crappie is a species, comprised of two types, of freshwater North American fish. The Crappie is a much-loved game fish that was originally only native to the eastern part of the United States and Canada. Now, due to its popularity, it can be found throughout North America. They’re not picky when it comes to habitat or diet. 

What is a Bluegill? 

bluegill

Bluegill can be found year-round and populate most of North America. This fish is known for its great taste and fighting attitude. Bluegills stand out due to their coloration. They’re so popular that anglers have introduced them to countries such as South Africa and Asia. 

How to tell the Difference Between Crappie and Bluegill

how to tell the difference between a crappie and a bluegill

Chances are newer anglers will confuse these two fish, but they have some distinct features that you can use to tell them apart. Below we’ll dig into size, shape, coloration and preferences for both species. 

Crappie vs Bluegill Size Differences

The average Bluegill ranges anywhere from 4-12 inches in size. That’s a pretty big range, but this is a versatile fish with a large distribution across water sources. 

The average size of a Crappie is 10 inches. They’re considered the “middle ground” of the Sunfish family as other species can be much smaller or surprisingly larger.

Crappie vs Bluegill Shape Differences

When it comes to shape, a sharp eye can pick out the differences between these two fish. The Bluegill has a blockier body that’s not quite as streamlined. The Crappie, on the other hand, is more streamlined and has a body that runs more horizontally. 

Crappie vs Bluegill Head and Mouth Differences

This may be one of the easiest ways to tell these two fish apart.

Crappies have much larger mouths than Bluegill, and they reach further back on the jaw. The Bluegill has a small mouth geared more toward their prey of choice. 

Crappie vs Bluegill Coloration Differences

Coloration is the easiest way to tell the difference between Crappie and Bluegill if you know what you’re looking for.

Let’s cover the Crappie first. There are actually two varieties of Crappie, both with distinct coloration. White Crappies are noticeably lighter in color, ranging from a nice silver to gray. They have dark bars running along their body. Black Crappies are very dark in color with irregular, dark blotches on their body. 

Unlike the Crappie, Bluegill truly stand out for their color. These fish have a deep blue to purple coloration along their face and gill area. This makes them a prime catch for many anglers as they’re truly beautiful. When compared to a Crappie of either variety, the distinct coloration is notable. 

Where Can You Find Bluegill? 

Bluegill love shallow water in lakes and ponds, but they’ll also frequent streams and rivers. They are drawn to cover, so they’ll likely be in areas of deep vegetation or using natural underwater structures to shield themselves. These fish prefer water temps in the 60-80 F range and will stay out of direct sunlight. 

Bluegill Fishing Tips

fisherman holding a coppernose bluegill

Luckily, Bluegill aren’t picky fish. They’ll eat almost anything despite their small mouths and it shows. Because of this you can use a variety of tackle and lures with Bluegill, but some of the best Bluegill lures will mimic their preferred live prey. 

Pay attention to jigs that do well in areas heavy with vegetation. When fishing for Bluegill, you don’t want to get caught up in the weeds and keep having to sacrifice jig after jig before you can even bring a fish in. 

Where Can You Find Crappie? 

You can find Crappie pretty much anywhere. While that might sound like a wild claim, between the two varieties, they have all freshwater sources covered. Crappie in general will thrive in ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks, reservoirs and more. They prefer water that is less than 12 feet deep.

The Black Crappie will hang out near vegetation and prefer clear, calm water and shade.

White Crappie don’t mind cloudy water and will swim out in open areas, but prefer doing so in the morning or evening. These fish will congregate around structures that provide shade when temps are higher. 

Crappie Fishing Tips

white crappie

If you’re wondering how to catch Crappie, you’ll want to focus on simulating live prey with ultralight gear and the perfect jig. Over the years anglers have noticed that Crappie respond well to plastic jigs and lures that mimic grubs. The best Crappie lures also tend to be the most simple. Make sure your rod and reel provide seamless action and won’t get hung up in surrounding vegetation, if you’re going for the Black variety. 

Crappie vs Bluegill Taste

Crappie and Bluegill are both panfish, meaning they’re the perfect size to fry up for a meal. However Bluegill are definitely the preferred of the two species. Crappie are edible and taste good, but may be bland to some; they have a flaky white meat. Bluegill, on the other hand, are considered some of the best tasting Sunfish and lack that “fishy” flavor that most freshwater fish have. 

Is There a Bluegill Crappie Hybrid?

While both species will crossbreed, they won’t do so together to create a hybrid. White and Black Crappie will crossbreed within their species; they don’t breed with any other species in the Sunfish family. Bluegill, however, are intentionally bred with Green Sunfish to create the “Hybrid Bluegill.” This hybrid can’t reproduce naturally. 

Sunfish vs Bluegill vs Crappie

Chances are, you’ll hear all three of these terms used interchangeably. In the world of fishing it can be hard to keep one title per fish. As you’ll find, each fish has many common names, and sometimes those common names change depending on the region of North America you’re fishing. Keep in mind that some fishermen will use Sunfish, Bluegill and Crappie interchangeably to mean the same fish – even though these are two distinct species under the Sunfish family.

Can Crappie and Bluegill Live Together? 

In the wild, Crappie and Bluegill definitely cross paths. Many of their preferences when it comes to habitat and water conditions are similar or the same. You’ll be more likely to find Bluegill with Black Crappie, as these two varieties like to hide out in vegetated areas. White Crappie are more exploratory and will happily venture into open, clear or cloudy water. 

Will Crappie Eat Bluegill? 

Crappie are known for eating almost any fish smaller than them, and since the Bluegill can range on the smaller side, this includes them. Crappie happily go after Bluegill as well as the juveniles of many other species. 

Conclusion

No matter which species you come across, you’ll be lucky to find a Bluegill or Crappie on the other end of your line. Both fish have distinct features that make them some of the favorites in the Sunfish family. If you’re out looking for either species, keep in mind that mimicking live bait is the way to go! You’ll find one on your hook in no time.