Selecting and Rigging Minnows for Crappie: A Definitive Guide

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There’s no soft bait, no jig, and no spinner more attractive to crappie than a live minnow. That’s a simple fact that any experienced angler can tell you.

Indeed, it’s often the case that they’ll take a minnow even when they just won’t hit anything you can pull from your tackle box.

That’s why, for many fishermen, minnows are the go-to choice for crappie. And if you know what you’re doing, they can be used to tightline, troll, slip float, and cast, making them as versatile as a good jig or soft bait.

But if you’re a bit rusty on your minnow fishing or new to catching crappie, we’d like to give you a head start this spring. Below, you’ll find a detailed guide on how to use and rig minnows, as well as some of our favorite tips and tricks.

Buying Bait Basics: What You Need to Know About Minnows

If you find a crappie honey-hole anywhere, you’ll find a store selling minnows nearby. And you may think it’s as easy as walking in, laying down a few bucks, and walking out–but don’t be fooled!

To get the most from your minnows, you need to follow some basic rules and know what you’re looking for in a lively bait.

Which Minnow to Choose?

Most bait stores carry one of two kinds of minnow: the golden shiner or the fathead. And as you can see from the pictures below, it’s pretty easy to tell these little guys apart.

Golden Shiner Minnow

Fat Head Minnow

This matters because, generally speaking, fatheads are a bit more robust than golden shiners, meaning that they’ll take a bit more beating and still come out alive and kicking.

When you have the option, go for them.

Signs of a Healthy Minnow

When you see farm-raised minnows in a bait tank, you need to assess their health. Sick minnows are more likely to die on you and far less active as bait–both bad things.

To get the most from them, you need your bait to be in good condition. Experts like Tim Allard recommend that you look for tightly schooled minnows rather than loose clusters. They should sport bright scales and undamaged fins, too.

If you see them swimming listlessly near the top of the tank, or you notice that they have damaged fins or dark scales, you probably want to pass.

Catching Bait Basics: What You Need to Know About Minnows

But not every fisherman buys his or her bait, and it’s estimated that about half of the baitfish used to catch crappie are caught rather than bought. Pretty much any minnow you catch will attract crappie, so don’t worry about the species!

Note: It’s critical that you not release invasive species into new habitats. For that reason, you should catch your minnows where you plan to fish, or buy them from a bait store.

These young anglers can show you how it’s done:

Proper Care of Your Minnows

Whether you’ve bought or caught your minnows, you need to treat them right if you want them to work well for you. There are three basic rules to follow with these little guys, and if you do, you’ll get a lot more from them.

Temperature shock

If you want to kill minnows, there’s probably no better way than to shock them with quick temperature changes. The best way to ensure they stay vigorous and healthy is to slowly adjust the temperature of their water.

For instance, if you buy them in a plastic bag, fill your bait bucket or container with lake water, and then drop that sealed bag in. This allows the water temperature in the bag to slowly move toward the lake temp.

Aeration

The longer you’re holding minnows, the more critical this becomes. More than a few hours without new oxygen will lead to death, and if you’re planning on an all-day trip, it’s worth investing in a bait bucket aerator like the Marine Metal lid aerator. It’s designed to fit a standard bucket, and will keep your minnows supplied with the oxygen they need.

No chlorine

Never use chlorinated water in your bait bucket! Also, you need to make sure that you don’t transport lake water from one place to another, as this can release invasive species into new habitats.

Note: It’s critical that you not release invasive species into new habitats. For that reason, you should never mix water from one source with another.

That leaves you two choices: either use a bucket of water from the lake you plan to fish, or let that tap water sit out for a few days to remove the chlorine.

Bring some ice

If your minnows get too hot, they’ll die. It’s usually best to hold them in cool, but not cold water. Keith Sutton suggests a water temperature of 50 to 65 degrees, and that sounds about right to us.

Hook Choice and How to Rig a Minnow for Crappie

We’ve written about choosing the right hook for crappie before, and we’ve reviewed some excellent choices, too. But it’s worth repeating in summary what we said there.

Hook Size

Crappie are often called “papermouths,” and that’s no mistake. For their size, their mouths are large, but they’re also incredibly fragile. While you might use a #8 on similar sized species like bluegill, you want to upsize your hooks for crappie.

We recommend that you run nothing smaller than a #6, and we often use a #4, #2, and even a #1 for large minnows.

Hook Selection

Most crappie anglers choose Aberdeen hooks. Designed for panfish, they feature a long shank, a wide gap, and a delicate construction.

  • Long shank – Not only does this long shank give your minnow plenty of room to do its thing, but it makes retrieving that hook from a crappie’s mouth much easier.
  • Wide gap – The Aberdeen’s wide gap helps, too, when you’re rigging minnows. It also works to prevent the hook from tearing free from delicate mouth tissues.
  • Delicate construction – An Aberdeen hook is made from very thin wire for a reason. First, it helps to minimize injury to the minnow, keeping it alive longer. That’s simply critical. But second, it allows you to free snags by deforming your hook. And since crappie love brush, that’s something you’ll quickly come to appreciate.

Our top choices for crappie hooks include the Eagle Claw and Mustad. But other excellent options are the Tru-Turn and Matzuo Sickle Aberdeen.

Hooking Minnow for Crappie

There are a number of different ways to hook a live minnow for crappie. The main things to keep in mind are how quickly a given technique kills the minnow and the realization that crappie are going to strike the head first.

  • Tail hooking – By running your hook through the tail, about a ¼ inch off the fins, you allow the minnow to kick and swim without doing it serious injury. They’ll be lively and long-lived that way, and it’s one of our favorite options. But to make it work, you need to remember to pause, as Ivo Coia explains in the video below.
  • Dorsal hooking – By running your hook through the back, directly below the dorsal fin, you also miss the minnow’s vital organs, allowing it to twitch both head and tail.
  • Lip hooking – With this technique, you run the hook from under the minnow’s chin, through both lips. Obviously, this leaves the tail kicking furiously, but it does kill the minnow more quickly than the alternatives.
  • Snout hooking – Essentially a modified lip hook, in this case, you run the hook down through the front of the head and out through its mouth. Like lip hooking, this lets the minnow move freely, but it doesn’t kill it as quickly.

demonstrating these 4 techniques

Crappie Rigs for Minnows

There are plenty of ways to rig your hooks for trolling, tightlining, and slip floating. Let’s review some of the most common.

Most crappie rigs feature two hooks on separate leaders, both of which will be attached to a weighted main line. Whether this rig is dropped to the bottom, suspended over cover from a slip float, or simply tightlined or trolled, the basic setup doesn’t vary too much.

If you want to buy a basic rig, you can do a lot worse than either the Bullet Weights Mr. Crappie Rig or the Eagle Claw Crappie Rig. They’re both well designed and inexpensive, and in our experience, they work really well. After tying them to your line, simply attach a small weight, and they’re ready for minnows.

If you want to make your own, you can experiment with different rigging styles.

In the diagram below, the “crappie or pickerel rig” is very similar to the Eagle Claw you can buy, and those wire spreaders cut down on tangles as the minnows swim around the main line.

With the “Kentucky” and “Basic” rigs, you forgo the spreaders, and the most significant difference between them is simply whether the weight is lowered or attached directly below the lower minnow.

We’d recommend something like the Kentucky rig for fishing the bottom, though we’d switch that standard sinker out for a pencil sinker, because it’s a touch less likely to snag. The basic rig is a great choice when you’re suspending your minnows in the water column, either while tightlining, trolling, or using a slip float.

Whether you use a barrel swivel above your rig, three-way swivels for each dropper, both, or neither, you can experiment to see what works best for you and your conditions.

Final Thoughts

Live minnows have proven themselves to generations of crappie anglers, and if you’re new to using them, or just haven’t done so in a while, we hope that our guide has helped you build the confidence to give them a try.

Let us know how these tips worked for you, and please leave us a comment below!

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