Crappie vs Shellcracker: The Differences Between Crappie and Shellcracker

Crappie vs Shellcracker
Crappie vs Shellcracker

Crappie are amongst the most popular sport fish in the country, with anglers heading for freshwater locations across the country to reel in this delicious panfish. Yet many end up reeling in very similar looking fish and often mistake them for crappie, with most of these lookalike species belonging to the same sunfish family.

Crappie vs Shellcracker

The sunfish family, known by their scientific name Centrarchidae, is a popular species of gamefish of which include the likes crappie, bluegill, rock bass, and black bass. Because the shape and size of most of these fish are similar, they are sometimes mistaken for each other, while there are many subspecies within the sunfish family that have slightly differences from each other – it’s easy to see why there is so much confusion regarding these fish!

A popular species within the sunfish family that are often mistaken for crappie is the redear sunfish, known more commonly as shellcracker. With a similar composition to crappie and found in many of the same freshwater locations, it’s understandable why they are often confused for each other!

The Differences Between Crappie and Shellcracker

Perhaps the most notable different between crappie and shellcracker is their color. As the name redear suggests, shellcrackers are known for having a distinct red color on the side fin, although the reddish hue is more common in males while females tend to have a slight orange tinge to their side fins.

In fact, shellcrackers are most often confused with bluegills, as they share a very similar shape and size, although tend to be a bit larger too. Beyond the red and orange colors, shellcrackers have similar dark green and brown tones, although shellcrackers often have more yellow tinges to them.

This makes them quite the contrast to crappie, which have lighter green hues to their bodies. White crappies also have dark bars across their fins, which is somewhat similar to the vertical stripes found on male shellcrackers, leading to them sometimes being mistaken for each other.

Black crappies don’t have many of the same physical appearances as shellcrackers, most notably in their coloration, although they do have similar shaped bodies due to both being part of the sunfish family.

In terms of size, both crappies and shellcrackers are typically the same. For example, the average size of a white crappie is 5-10 inches while a black crappie is around 4-7 inches, making them similar in size to shellcrackers, which average at around 8-9 inches.

You’ll find some shellcrackers are bigger than some crappie and vice versa, although adult shellcrackers are usually on the bigger side on average.

Their habitats often differ too, with crappies being much more widely found than shellcrackers. This is because shellcrackers are native to states like Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and parts of Illinois and Missouri, while crappies are found almost anywhere in the country.

That said, more shellcrackers have been introduced to other parts of the USA, although the introduction of flathead catfish in the same areas has significantly reduced their population.

So, the biggest differences between crappies and shellcrackers is their distinct colors. Some differ in size too, while black crappies don’t have the same vertical stipes shared by shellcrackers and white crappies, so it’s easy to see why there is often confusion between the two members of the sunfish family.


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