May–June 2021

Minnesota Profile

Crappie (Pomoxis spp.)

Anglers enjoy a continuous season for this popular Minnesota fish.

Roy Heilman

Appearance. Widespread and abundant in the land of lakes, the crappie boasts near-walleye levels of popularity among the state’s anglers. Both species of crappie, black and white, are found in Minnesota. Crappies have narrow bodies with a round profile common to most of the sunfish family of fishes. Black crappies (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) display dark spots without discernible pattern on a background that varies from silver to olive to gold. During the spawn, black crappie males darken in color, temporarily appearing more “black.” 

By comparison, white crappies (Pomoxis annularis) generally have fainter spots, partly arranged in vertical stripes. Crappies grow faster than bluegills and other sunfish, and they frequently surpass 8 inches in length by age 3. Specimens greater than 12 inches (about a pound in weight) are considered large.

Habitat and Range. Both species are native to most of the eastern United States. They live in lakes, ponds, rivers, and reservoirs. Black crappies are found throughout Minnesota, preferring deeper lakes with cool, clear water. White crappies occur in the southern half of the state and are known for being more tolerant of warm, shallow, and often turbid waters.

Life Cycle. White and black crappies spawn in late spring in Minnesota. Males prepare beds in shallow water and guard them before and after spawning. Eggs hatch within days after fertilization; fry begin life feeding on tiny aquatic invertebrates. Abundant food encourages growth, and crappies can reach maturity in just two years. Both species grow at similar rates, but white crappies often outpace black crappies in environments where the two species live. This may be because white crappies consume a higher proportion of fish as they grow. Crappie diets include zooplankton, insects and larvae, crustaceans, and small fish. Crappies are known for feeding in low-light periods, including through the night. Annual spawning success is irregular; sometimes a single-year class may compose the bulk of the population in a water body. Crappies provide food for an array of species, including bluegills, bass, walleye, northern pike, turtles, mink, otters, and herons.

Angling. Crappie season is continuous in Minnesota. In spring and summer, try your luck in and around weeds like coontail, cabbage, and reeds. Effective methods include slip bobbers with live bait, jigs tipped with live bait or plastics, and even trolling with crankbaits and other artificial lures. In fall, apply these techniques in deeper water as crappies transition toward their winter haunts. Crappies may still inhabit weeds in winter, but they are famous for roaming in schools in lake basins. A small minnow under a bobber is a great setup for catching crappies through the ice. Also effective are live baits like waxworms and small lures that mimic the zooplankton and other invertebrates crappies seek near lake and reservoir bottoms.