How to catch a crappie

Illustration of a black crappie

Click the image to enlarge

A black crappie

Crappie fishing is a big part of Minnesota's fishing scene. In fact, a recent study determined that only the walleye surpasses the crappie as the state’s favorite fish to catch. This is due, in part, to the crappie’s fine flavor and its prevalence in most Minnesota lakes and many rivers. If you have never tried crappie fishing now is great time to start.

When to fish

The inland crappie fishing is open year-around. That is true too for waters that border Canada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Check the fishing regulations based on where you want to fish. Some waters have special regulations for crappie.

  • Inland: waters within Minnesota
  • Border: waters that border other states or countries
  • Special: waters listed by name that have special or experimental regulations in place that differ from statewide regulations.

Many anglers particularly enjoy fishing for crappie in May and June. That’s when mature crappie move into shallow dark-bottomed bays prior to spawning, thereby becoming easier to catch because relatively large numbers of fish are concentrated in relatively small geographic areas.

Still, crappies can be elusive. One day you’ll find them in the bays and the next day they’re gone.

Where to fish
Photo of a school of black crappies

A school of black crappies

Crappies like to be near cover. In spring they hang out near brush piles, sunken trees, cattail stands and other places near shore where predators don’t have an easy path of attack. Crappies also can be found in between the branches of sunken trees and brush piles. Fish hiding in sunken timber are not easy to reach due to all the tree limbs and twigs yet if you can sneak a bait into these areas they are good places to fish.

Later in the year crappies tend to stay in deeper water except during dawn and dusk when they move toward shore to feed. They can be found along underwater points, humps, deep weedlines and other structure.

How to fish

Crappies can be caught in a variety of ways. Common techniques include fishing a minnow beneath a bobber, casting a small jig tipped with a soft plastic body or casting beetle-spin lure or small hard plastic lures. As crappies increase in size they change their diet from eating mostly insects and crustaceans to eating mostly fish. As such, lures that imitate a small fish can be good for catching a big crappie.

Photo showing jigs of different sizes and weights

Jigs of different sizes and weights

Still, small jigs are perhaps the most common lure for catching crappie. The jig is wonderful lure in that all you need to do is tie it on and cast. A 1/8-ounce, 1/16-ounce or 1/32-ounce jig will gradually fall toward the bottom of the lake and then all you need to do is slowly reel it in, making jigging motions with your rod now and then to draw additional attention to the lure.

A beetle-spin and spinnerbait lures are also effective at catching crappie. These lures give off a lot of flash and vibration, thereby attracting attention. They work best in shallow or fairly shallow water. Small hard plastic lures are also a good option as they tend to be the shape, color and size of common prey. Many anglers like to troll hard plastic baits slowly around weedlines, weed edges and other structure in search of schools of crappie. Then, once they have found a pod of fish, anchor and cast the same lure jig or minnow-and-bobber rig.

One thing about crappie: they have a very soft mouth. This is important to know because when fishing with a bobber or jig it is easy to set the hook too hard, thereby tearing the fish’s mouth and missing the hook set. So, when you feel a bite set the hook with a slow and steady motion.

Crappies can be caught on a fly rod though this type of works best only in spring when the fish are in four feet of water or less. Poppers and other surface lures work best during dawn and dusk. Typically, the crappies are found near the bottom so wet flies are a better option.

Photo of an open-faced spincast rod and reel

An open-faced spincast rod and reel

A light spinning rod and reel loaded with six-pound test monofilament line will work fine. So too will a telescopic cane pole, which is easier for kids to cast and provides plenty of fun because even a small crappie will put a bend in these long rods. A cane pole is good for dropping a worm-and-bobber rig into the open areas around lily pads and timber that has fallen into the lake.

Those fishing with a bobber will want to use hooks in the No. 6 to No. 10 range. Hooks with long shanks are best because they are easier to unhook from a fish’s mouth though crappies – because of their very soft mouths – are usually very easy to unhook.

You will also want to purchase some small spilt shot to attach to the line about a foot above the hook and below the bobber. The number of split shot you add to the line will depend upon the size of your bobber. If you put too much split shot on the line the bobber will sink. If you don’t put enough weight on the line the bobber will ride high in the water, or if it is a pencil-style bobber float on its side. The correct amount of weight is just enough so that you can easily see your bobber while making it easy for the fish to pull it down.

Small jigs come in a variety of styles, weights and colors. It’s good to have several types while fishing because sometimes one color or style will definitely out-perform others.

What’s important to know
Photo showing a slip bobber rig

A slip bobber rig

  • In summer it is helpful to have a slip bobber at the ready. A slip bobber allows your bait to fall to any preselected depth while also allowing you to cast with ease. A slip bobber is a good thing to have because sometimes a minnow on a plain hook in 15 feet of water is just the ticket.
  • When in doubt tie on a jig with a feathered tail and furry body. Such jigs have been around for years and still work well.
Basic biology
Photo of a two white crappies taking cover in a submerged tree stump

Two white crappies take cover in a submerged tree stump.

  • Minnesota is home to two types of crappie: the black crappie and the white crappie. Black crappies have irregular dark speckles on their sides. White crappies the dark markings consist of regularly arranged vertical bars. When in doubt count the number of spines on the dorsal fin that stretches across the top of the fish. Black crappies have seven or eight spines while white crappies have five or six.
  • It is common for crappies to produce very large year classes some years and very small year classes in other years. Unlike sunfish, which tend to produce strong year classes every year, the crappie is sort of a “boom or bust” species. Fishing tends to be the best in the fifth year following a strong year class.
  • The state record black crappie weighed 5 pounds. The state record white crappie weighed 3 pounds, 15 ounces.

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