The lakes and rivers in the central part of Minnesota hold the highest amounts of crappies, while those deep, cold lakes in the northeast portion hold the fewest crappies. While those two areas represent the two extremes, crappies are widely distributed throughout the state. Crappies are fish of vegetation -- both submerged and emergent -- and they prefer water that is warm and calm with high levels of clarity. The majority of anglers who catch crappies do so in the spring, when the water temperature reaches about 59 degrees F and the fish move into the shallow areas to spawn. During this time period--generally May to early June in Minnesota--anglers tend to have their best luck catching crappies.
Out of the Shallows
Many anglers quit fishing for crappies once the fish leave their shallow-water spawning grounds and head for deeper water. Lots of crappies still are caught, but most often by anglers who catch them by chance while targeting other species. But anglers who look for crappies can find them. The fish often form large schools after they vacate the shallows and will hang around the edges of weeds, drop-offs and main-lake reefs and humps. Crappies generally are not found on the bottom, but instead suspended between the bottom of the lake and the top of the water, where they find minnows and small aquatic insects to eat.
Given their abundance in so many water bodies in Minnesota, it's somewhat difficult to point to a specific lake that is best for crappie fishing. The state's most well-known crappie lake is Upper Red Lake in northwest Minnesota, but it is a long drive for most anglers. Some other of the state's large lakes -- like Leech and Rainy -- also are well-known crappie spots. Yes, thousands of other lakes in the state have healthy crappie populations and are good places for anglers to try. Keep in mind that word of a good crappie bite spreads quickly in Minnesota, so be quiet about your successes on a particular lake or you likely will find a crowd there the next time you go.
Since crappies rarely weigh more than a pound or two, anglers can get by with using light equipment. As for fishing lines, 4- to 6-pound monofilament works best, and it should be spooled onto a light or ultralight spinning rod and reel combination. A great year-round bait for crappies is a minnow, especially when they are impaled on a plain hook and fished beneath a bobber. A good bait to use to locate crappies is a small jig tipped with a minnow. It can be thrown around vegetation and other areas that crappies frequent and retrieved slowly. Once you find a school of fish, switch to a vertical presentation -- like a minnow and bobber -- and drop your bait right into the school. If the fish are biting well, substitute a plastic worm or grub for the minnow. That way, you will not have to change baits as much and can focus on catching fish. Dawn and dusk are the two prime times to catch crappies, though they will bite all day long.
Anglers can target crappies year-round in Minnesota, but some areas are closed to fishing during the spring when the fish are spawning and particularly susceptible to being caught. Signs posted in the water signal that these areas are closed. The daily limit of crappies is 10, but anglers should note that there are specific limits and length regulations on some lakes. The DNR fishing regulations handbook includes a list of lakes with special regulations.