What are the Differences Between Crappie vs Bluegill?

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If you grew up freshwater fishing as a child, there’s almost one guarantee: you have caught a bluegill (or another similar sunfish) at some point. If you hit the water regularly, it’s also likely you have caught a crappie. That said, there are a surprising number of casual or beginning anglers who do not know the differences between crappie vs. bluegill.

Aside from the fact that they are both relatively small fish that are fairly easy to catch, bluegill and crappie actually have little else in common.

So, what are the major differences between crappie and bluegill?

Below, we will look at five key differences between the two fish.

Five Differences Between Crappie and Blue

Biological Classification

While many refer to crappie as a species, the term is actually reserved for a genus. For those who may not be up on their biological hierarchies, here’s a quick and simple explanation:

Species —> Genus

A species, in other words, is a member of a genus. Likewise, a genus is a member of a family, and so on.

The genus “crappie” (or, technically, Pomoxis), is the parent category for two distinct-but-related species of fish:

  • Black Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
  • White Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

In contrast, bluegill (or Lepomis macrochirus) are a species. Along with several other species (generally referred to as sun fish), they are part of the genus Lepomis.

The species that make up the Lepomis category include:

  • Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
  • Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus)
  • Bantam Sunfish (Lepomis symmetricus)
  • Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)
  • Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
  • Redspotted Sunfish (Lepomis miniatus)
  • Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus)
  • Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)
  • Northern Sunfish (Lepomis peltastes)
  • Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
  • Orangespotted Sunfish (Lepomis humilis)
  • Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)
  • Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus)

Shape

While fishing in-the-moment, it might be difficult to immediately distinguish the physical differences between bluegill and crappie. They are both fairly small, but the body shape can be a key indicator.

Bluegill are generally rounder and, as they get larger, have a “fat” or bloated appearance. This is less common in smaller bluegill, but many trophy-sized bluegill will appear disproportionate or inflated.

Crappie, on the other hand, are generally longer and leaner. Even as they reach record sizes, their bodies typically keep length and girth at proportionate levels.

Huge Oklahoma Crappie
Robert Loar shows off a massive Oklahoma crappie

In the photo above, it is easy to see why large crappie are often called “footballs.” If you focus on the body alone, it is wide in the middle and gets narrow and almost pointy toward the face and tail. Crappie also have more of a traditional arch to their back.

In contrast, a bluegill’s face and mouth are flatter, so the entirety of its body (sans the tail) carries a smoother and rounder appearance.

Coloration

As we mentioned above, crappie can be classified into two distinct species: white crappie and black crappie. Bluegill, on the other hand, can often be mistaken for any of the other dozen species of sun fish.Typically, bluegill will most commonly resemble redear sunfish and orangespotted sunfish.

For both species of crappie, the major difference you will find is in coloration. White crappie, obviously, will have lighter areas while black crappie will be darker. White crappie also tend to have several vertical bands or bars running along their bodies. Black crappie, in contrast, have spots and splotches. White crappie will have more uniformed patterns, as well. Black crappie generally have a mixture of gray and green coloring that mixes with the black coloring.

Bluegill, however, have very little (if any) coloration similarities with crappie. Per its name, bluegill will often have a light, thin, blue strand that follows its jaw line (think of a chin-strap beard). It’s face is typically green with dark eyes. A bluegill’s chest and abdomen will often be a pronounced orange or yellow color. When a male bluegill is breeding, this will usually present as a brighter orange.

Bluegill colors can vary depending on location. In some areas, a bluegill may have lighter or more faded features. In others, the coloration can be almost black. Perhaps the most distinguishing coloration of the bluegill, however, is a pronounced black spot on the edge of the gill.

Size

As with all species, size will vary based upon age, location, and other factors. That said, both species of crappie generally tend to be both heavier and longer than bluegill.

At maturity, an adult crappie is typically 4-10 inches (or 10-25 centimeters), with white crappie being slightly longer. Both black and white crappie normally do not grow to over two pounds. That said, catching crappie between three and four pounds is possible on numerous lakes throughout the United States.

Related: The Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in America

The world record black crappie (as of this writing) was caught by Lionel Ferguson on Richeison Pond in Tennessee. Ferguson’s catch weighed 5 pounds, 7 ounces (2.47 kg).

Conversely, the world record white crappie was caught by Fred Bright in 1957 while fishing Enid Dam. His catch weighed 5 pounds, 3 ounces (2.35 kg).

The bluegill, as we mentioned, is typically shorter and lighter than the crappie. A mature bluegill tends to be between 4 and 11 inches at maturation. Bluegill will also generally weigh less than two pounds.

The world record bluegill, caught in 1950 on Ketona Lake in Alabama by T. Hudson, weighed 4 pounds, 12 ounces (2.15 kg).

Head and Mouth

We talked briefly about the differences between bluegill and crappie when discussing shape and coloration. That said, the head and mouth require a separate category.

Crappie tend to have larger, “blockier” heads than bluegill. Likewise, bluegill have sleeker, more angular heads.

The most salient difference between crappie and bluegill, however, comes when looking at the mouths.

Crappie are often called “paper mouths” because the tissue of their mouths is incredibly thin. They also have relatively wide mouths and jaws.

Bluegill, on the other hand, have small mouths with thicker tissue. It is easy to “lip” a crappie where doing so with most bluegill would be difficult and could injure the fish’s jaw.

Recapping the Major Differences Between Crappie vs Bluegill

By now, you should know the major differences between crappie vs. bluegill. While there are other factors we did not elaborate upon (diet, habitat, taste when cooked, etc.), this guide should give you a pretty good understanding of the differences and the similitaries.

To recap how bluegill and crappie are different, however, he’s a quick run-down.

  • Biology: Bluegill and crappie have different biological classifications
  • Coloration: There are considerable color and marking differences between bluegill and crappie
  • Shape: Bluegill tend to be shorter and rounder with less curvature than crappie
  • Size: While both are fairly small, crappie tend to be longer and heavier than bluegill
  • Head and Mouth: Crappie have blockier heads and thinner mouths than bluegill

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