White Perch vs. Crappie: How to Tell the Difference and Catch More Fish

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I’ve lost count of how many times anglers confuse white perch with crappie. But it is not a surprise. I’ve been there too. It takes time and a lot of fishing to tell the differences between two fishes, especially if they are small and behave roughly the same.

White perch and crappie are two different species. They are from a different family, as we will discuss later. 

But how do you tell which is which? First, crappies have a silver-colored body with vertical dark stripes. In contrast, white perch has a silver body with a single lateral line and two dorsal fins. 

After many years of fishing, I’ve also identified some differences in the:

  • Body shape
  • Size
  • Fin shape
  • Habitats 

We will walk through each one of the differences. In the end, you will be able to tell which fish you have at the end of the line. Let’s get started

The Science Behind the Differences

White Perch vs. Crappie: How to Tell the Difference and Catch More Fish

Although neither of them comes with an identifying dog tag, all differences come from the fact that white perch and crappies are from different families. I have summarized the relevant information in the following table. 

White PerchCrappie
SpeciesM. AmericanaP. Annularis
Common NamesSilver BassSilver Perch

White Perch and Crappie Distribution

Even though it will take you some time to get hands-on experience, you can tell which is which simply by where you are. I’ve noticed that the following rivers and lakes hold thriving populations of white perch and crappies. 

White PerchCrappie
LocationSt. Lawrence RiverLower Great LakesLake OntarioSouth CarolinaNova ScotiaGreat LakesMississippi RiverHudson BaySouth Dakota

After over 15 years of fishing, I can tell you that white perch typically favor brackish waters. You can find them on remote lakes and ponds too. In contrast, crappies love slow-moving rivers and ponds of turbid waters. 

In any case, you can check the fishing report of the local lake or river and check what species are the most common. This way, you can rule out that one. I already compile some of my favorite places to fish for crappie, you can check them out here.

White Perch and Crappie Appearance

It is time to get down to the important part. Let’s discuss the appearance of both fish and how they differ, starting with the body. 

Body Shape

I used to confuse both fish back in the day. Until I held them side by side and noticed they were nothing alike. Crappies have a stocked, chubby body with an average size of 10.8 inches. Some anglers say that they can grow as big as 15 inches. My biggest catch was around 12 inches.

In contrast, white perch have deep, thin bodies. They look slimmer than crappies. Although the average size is similar, I have seen them grow as long as 17 inches.


Both of them have silver-colored bodies. However, white perch are lighter in color than crappies. But more important is that the color is the stripes! Crappies have dark vertical stripes running from the gills to the tail. In contrast, white perch have a single lateral stripe. Therefore, if the fish you are holding has a single lateral strip and is light silver, then you are holding a white perch. 


After many catches, I was able to spot another key difference between both: The fins. I was particularly interested in the dorsal fin. 

Pay close attention to the fins the next time you have a white perch on your hands. You will notice that they have two separate dorsal fins. The first one has several spines and is irregular in shape. The other sits closer to the tail and has no thick spikes. 

Crappies, on the other hand, have a single dorsal fin. For me, this is the quickest way to identify them. 

There is not much of a difference in the rest of the fins.


I admit that examining the mouth is a little over the top. However, I managed to spot one difference. Crappies have more of a triangular mouth, with the lower jaw protruding up. 

Still, I don’t think there is a need to examine the fish this close, as we already know three easily distinguishable features to tell these fishes apart. 

White PerchCrappie
ColorSilverSingle lateral stripeSilver (Darker)Dark vertical stripes
Body ShapeThin and deepShort and stocky 
FinsTwo dorsal finsSilver tail finsSingle dorsal finDark silver tail fin
MouthEven, shortLower jaw protrudes upward

Now you will know how to distinguish between white perch and crappie the next time you happen to catch either one. 

Why The Confusion?

I’m by no means the holder of the absolute truth. But I think the confusion comes from the fact that the white perch is not an actual perch. You might have noticed that because they are from the Moronidae family instead of Percidae. That has driven many people to use white perch as a nickname for crappie. 

Some anglers refer to white perch as silver bass!  So, it is easy to lose track of which fish is which. 

How Abundant They Are?

Both crappies and white perch are extremely common. They are even considered a nuisance fish in some lakes and rivers due to their high numbers. That’s one of the main reasons people often target these two fishes. 

When do They spawn?

Both crappie and white perch have similar spawning behavior. They initiate their seasons during spring. As a result, this is one of the best times to target them! 

What is the Best Fishing Rod for Crappies?

Nowadays the number of rod options you have is overwhelming. Luckily for you, I’ve tested and reviewed 10 of the best fishing rods for crappie you can find. Just make sure to pair it with one of these amazing fishing reels. You can use the same setup for white perch 

What Do They Eat? 

White perch and crappies sustain themselves on different things. For example, crappies typically eat small crustaceans, insects, plankton, other invertebrates, and even small fish. 

In contrast, white perch love to eat fish eggs, insects, worms, and small fishes. 

In any case, if you are planning on using bait and hooks, I highly recommend using a number 2,4, and 6 sizes. 

Wrapping It Up

Although both fish are similar, they belong to two different families. But this is not the key difference. All that it takes is to look closely at the body. Crappies have short and stocky bodies with dark silver scales. The pattern starts in the gills and runs all the way to the tail. 

White perch, on the other hand, is lighter in color with a white belly. But the most remarkable difference for me is that the white perch has two dorsal fins! Crappies only have one. Remember this and you will never mistake them again.

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