Ice fishing for 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.

A crappie being pulled from a hole in the ice after being hooked
When to fish

Fishing for crappies is continuous, meaning you can target crappie at any time of year. Limits can vary from place to place, size restrictions may exist and fishing for them in a particular lake could be closed or limited.

Statewide regulations apply in many lakes, rivers and streams entirely within Minnesota. As mentioned above, some Minnesota waters have special regulations specific to a particular waterbody. Regulations also may differ on Minnesota's border waters with Canada, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Complete and comprehensive fishing regulations are in the fishing regulations booklet. The most up-to-date version is available online. Printed copies, which do not include the most-recent updates, are available where fishing licenses are sold.

Where to fish

Most Minnesota lakes and rivers contain crappie but not all so, if you intend to target crappie, a good place to start is our LakeFinder tool, which contains fish population information for more than 4,500 fishing lakes.

There is no single answer for where to fish. All lakes are different in terms of shape, depth, bottom contours, oxygen levels and other biological factors. That said, the mouths of shallow bays that lead to deeper water can be a good place to start. That’s because after ice forms water temperatures in shallow bays are colder than deeper water and crappie respond to this change by moving to deeper water to conserve energy and find forage.

Crappie also can be found on or near drop-offs, shelves, points, narrows, weedy flats or other types of structure. Crappie typically aren’t found near the surface or the bottom. Instead, they tend to suspend somewhere in between, often slightly deeper than suspended bluegills.

LakeFinder includes underwater topographic maps that show a lake's contours and can help you find some of these prime locations.

Those who fish with an underwater camera or sonar unit clearly have an advantage in determining where crappie are or aren’t. A schooling species, crappie often are on the move.

That’s why many savvy anglers who find a school of crappie also drills holes in nearby deeper and shallower water. They do this because if the school moves, they can perhaps find them again. The nice thing about crappies is that if you find them, you generally can catch them.

How to fish

Basic equipment for fishing for crappie includes a short flexible rod, reel, an assortment of small ice fishing lures, bobber, bobber stop, clip-on weight (to help set the bobber at the proper depth), split-shot weights and live bait, typically crappie minnows (which are simply smaller, sorted fathead minnows), wigglers/Eurolarvae meal worms, or wax worms. Entry level ice-fishing rod-and-reel combinations can be purchased for about $25.

Some crappie anglers prefer to fish without a bobber. These anglers drop their lure to the bottom of the lake, wait for the line to go slack (this signals the lure has hit bottom) and then lift the lure a few feet off the bottom. After that, they pay close attention to the line and rod tip. You set the hook if the rod tip twitches, the line goes slack or if the line moves in an unusual way.

Those fishing with a camera or sonar unit drop their lure to the depth where they see or are marking fish.

Those without these technological advantages tend to start fishing near the bottom of the lake and then, over time, experiment at higher locations until they either find fish or decide to move elsewhere.

Typically, crappies are suspended in the water column as opposed to walleye and perch, which typically forage within a foot or two of the bottom.

Though some anglers like to fish without a bobber many other anglers prefer to fish with a bobber. Anglers who fish with a bobber, especially those fishing in deep water, typically:

  1. Thread a bobber stop onto their line;
  2. Thread a slip bobber onto their line;
  3. Tie a lure to their line;
  4. Clip a heavy weight to their lure;
  5. Drop the weight down the hole to determine the water’s depth;
  6. Pull the land back out of the hole using a hand-over-hand motion;
  7. Take off the clip-on weight;
  8. Slide the bobber stop to a location on the line that places the lure at the depth they want; and
  9. Drop the lure and bobber rig back down the hole. They set the hook if the bobber jiggles, sinks or behaves oddly such as tipping on its side.

Many times, crappies attack their prey from below, rising up to the bait and inhaling it. The result is what anglers call an “up bite.” You can detect such a bite when the bobber goes slack or, if fishing without a bobber, the gentle bend in the sensitive tip of the rod straightens or the line goes slack as the fish has lifted up and sucked in the bait.

A common technique when fishing for crappies is to “jig,” meaning you twitch or lift the rod to entice a bite. This up-and-down motion creates the appearance of food naturally falling through the water column.

While there is no universal rule on how often to jig do know you can over-jig, thereby scaring crappie away rather than attracting them to your lure. Large jigging motions work best for attracting distant fish and more subtle motions work best for enticing fish already near the lure.

You can fish with two lines in Minnesota when fishing through the ice. Crappie anglers commonly jig with one rod and leave the other alone. Sometimes the rod that is jigged catches most of the fish; sometimes the untouched rod that dangles a motionless bait catches more fish.

If the rod that isn’t being jigged catches most of the fish, that’s a clue you may be jigging too aggressively. While crappie fishing, sometimes your jigging rod serves as a “calling rod,” to attract crappies to your hole where they instead will bite on your suspended minnow on your second line.

Ice fishing jigs, flies and spoons come in many difference colors and shapes. It’s best to have a variety and to experiment as some lures may work better than others on particular body of water.

When fishing weedbed areas it’s best to fish just over the tops of them or along the edges rather than in them.

Because crappies’ diets include larger items like minnows, darters, and large insects, begin fishing with medium sized jigs and experiment. Don’t be afraid to try louder or flashier jigs, even small jigging spoons, to draw in crappies. And tip your jigs with bait mentioned earlier – wigglers/Eurolarvae, meal works, wax worms, crappie minnows or cut a crappie minnow in half and thread the head on the hook. Crappies have large mouths capable of inhaling large prey items.



  • Auger for drilling a hole
  • Scoop for removing ice and slush from the hole
  • Rod, reel, lure and live bait
  • Plastic bucket or chair to sit on or, more commonly, a pop-up fishing shelter
  • Warm clothes and boots

Useful & handy

  • Sled or plastic bucket for hauling your gear
  • Emergency ice picks to stab into ice in the event you break through
  • Pop-up ice fishing shelter
  • Propane heater
  • Disposable hand and toe warmers
  • Face mask
  • Sunscreen to prevent sunburn
  • Fish-finding sonar unit
  • Underwater camera
  • A smartphone app (they are quite inexpensive) that will show you lake depths and where you are in relation to bottom contours
  • Small towel or rag for drying hands
  • Warm, waterproof gloves
  • Head-lamp or flashlight for seeing in low light conditions
  • Sunglasses
  • Tackle box with a variety of lures, weights and bobbers
  • Ruler for measuring fish if fishing on a lake where special sunfish regulations are in place
  • Compass in the event snow squalls prevent you from being able to see shore
  • Slip-on ice cleats for your boots
What's important to know
  • Unlike the summer months, water temperatures in winter are warmer near the bottom of the lake than the top. Many fish and baitfish move to warmer areas in winter to conserve energy.
  • Line diameter matters. Crappies often inspect your lure before they bite. As such, you’ll want your line to be as invisible as possible. Successful anglers often fish with 2- to 4-pound test line.
  • Even big crappies can be very light biters. That’s why some crappie anglers add a spring bobber to the tip of their fishing rod. A spring bobber is a very sensitive length of metal that can detect bites that you may not see or feel without it.
  • Crappie have very soft mouths that can be torn if you set the hook too forcefully. It is best to steadily raise the rod upward with enough oomph to set the hook but not much more.
  • You’ll want your lure to be heavy enough to take kinks out of the line but not so large that it is too for the fish to inhale. Common crappie lure sizes are one-sixteenth ounce, one-thirty-second ounce and one-sixty-fourth ounce. You can make lures fall faster toward the bottom by adding a split shot or two about a foot above the lure. Tungsten (lead-free) jigs are denser than lead and therefore fall faster than same-sized lead jigs.
  • Fishing success on lakes with clear water is often best during the low-light conditions of dawn and dusk, the times of day when fish tend to be the most active. Still, in many lakes, especially those with turbid waters, there can be a very good day bite. For many families it is easier to fish during the day, so check with your local bait shop on lakes that often provide good fishing all day long.
  • Crappie are often suspended over the deepest holes in a lake. Because that’s the case, crappie are susceptible to barotrauma, an often fatal injury caused by being brought quickly to surface. So, if you are catching crappie in water deeper than 20 feet the ethical thing to do is to keep the fish you catch because they are likely to die if released if back in the hole.
  • If you are going to drill multiple holes, drill them in one session rather than a drill-fish-drill-fish approach. There are benefits to being quiet, especially when fishing shallow water.
  • The bait shop near where you intend to fish can be a helpful source of information. Bait shop staff tend to know the size, colors and styles of lures that successful anglers are using, and because it is in their interest for you to be successful, they will help you make lure choices.
  • Some lakes are subject to special regulations that restrict harvest beyond the normal statewide regulations. Make you know how many fish you can keep by checking the fishing regulations using LakeFinder, LakeFinder Mobile or the fishing regulations booklet. Many lakes with special regulations have very good fish populations, and though you can keep fewer fish, the size quality may be better.
  • When cleaning your catch, it is common to see small black spots on the fillets. These pepper-like appearances – called neascus – are not harmful nor does it alter the health or flavor of the fish.
Basic biology
  • 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.
Helpful information
  • An internet search of "how to ice fish for crappie" will yield various articles and videos that further expand on how to catch crappie.
  • An internet search of “ice fishing augers” is something you may want to research because drilling a hole is the very first step to catching fish. Hand and power augers come in a wide variety of price ranges and styles with battery powered augers increasingly popular because they start reliably with the flip of a switch. If you choose a hand auger, you may want to consider one with cutting blades no larger than five inches in length. That’s large enough for bluegill yet easier on your body because you will be making a smaller diameter cutting through less ice.
  • An internet search of “ice fishing electronics” will yield various articles and videos on sonar units, underwater cameras and GPS units. These days the majority of ice fishing anglers use some sort of fish-finding technology rather than, as they say, “fishing blind.”

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