Destinations May 2020 Techniques

Texas Lake O’ the Pines in May

Les Milligan catches slabs like this one during the spring and summer months at Lake O’ the Pines. He said the biggest crappie he’s ever caught there weighed 3.2 pounds.


Texas Lake O’ the Pines in May

Catching crappie on the prettiest lake in Texas

by John Phillips

Crappie pro Les Milligan of Longview, Texas, started crappie fishing more than 35 years ago when he was only five years old. He’s been guiding professionally year-round for crappie for more than three years on the 18,000-acre Lake O’ the Pines, a reservoir on Big Cypress Bayou in east Texas far away from the hustle and bustle of cities.

A drawing card for crappie anglers is catching nice-sized crappie on Lake O’ the Pines that must have a minimum length of 10-inches long.

Built in the 1950’s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it is only 30-40 feet deep and due to its pretty green color and lush surrounding landscape, many call it the most beautiful lake in east Texas.

Milligan says, “The biggest crappie ever caught in my boat weighed 3.2 pounds and was caught by one of my clients, a 16-year-old.  He realized it was a big crappie, but he didn’t understand that that feat was equivalent to a bass fisherman catching a 10-pound-plus bass.”

The Crappie Spawn – Where and When 

 According to Milligan, “The spawn there depends on the weather, and when the water heats up. But once the crappie move in shallow, we catch crappie in a foot or less of water. Often we can watch the crappie move under our corks before they take the baits.”

He said, “The Corps of Engineers left most of the timber standing in the lake before its impoundment. The crappie usually will stage on that standing timber that leads into spawning coves, suspending on the tree branches, where you may see one crappie or ten.”

“Once the crappie move in shallow, we catch crappie in a foot or less of water. Often we can watch the crappie move under our corks before they take the baits.” ~ Crappie Guide Les Milligan

The crappie caught in the spring and the summer must be 10-inches long for anglers to keep, and the limit is 25 crappie per person. When the water becomes high at this flood-control lake, the crappie will move into the button willows. But if the lake is at a normal level, the crappie usually will spawn in any hard wood coming off the shoreline, as well as stumps and brush. Unlike most lakes, the fishing pressure at Lake O’ the Pines isn’t very heavy during the crappie spawn. However, Milligan and other crappie anglers say springtime is one of the toughest times to find and catch crappie at the lake, mainly because the crappie are so susceptible to weather changes.

Les Milligan points out schools of crappie he’s found with his electronics.

The Lake O’ the Pines crappie spawn starts around the first of May when the crappie will move out of the shallow water and into the brush piles on the main lake. They will often stack up in schools of 100 fish or more. Not many people put out brush piles on this lake, because the Corps of Engineers manages the lake and doesn’t allow people to sink brush piles there.

However, Milligan said, “There are some nice-sized brush piles out on the main lake.  The Corps has put out their own PVC pipe types of fish attractors all over the lake. About 20 of them are marked with GPS coordinates, and you can get those coordinates and see maps of the lake and its stumps on the Internet. I rarely fish those Corps’ brush piles, since they receive quite a bit of fishing pressure. I prefer to locate structure off the beaten paths where most anglers aren’t looking for it.”

Milligan said May through August he fishes brush 10-24 feet deep. During the summer months, a thermocline will develop at the lake.

“Once you identify a thermocline with your electronics, then don’t fish any deeper than that thermocline. Crappie don’t live below the thermocline,” he said.

Tactics and Equipment for Catching Spawning Crappie

  • Mark waypoints. Milligan said, “I have about 6700 waypoints marked on the lake on my depth finder, since I’ve been locating and marking waypoints there as long as I’ve been fishing. Those waypoints help me be more efficient.”
  • Use electronics. Like many crappie anglers these days, Milligan is a huge fan of Garmin’s Panoptix LiveScope since much of the timber he fishes is completely submerged. He goes into the underwater standing timber and scans a tree with his LiveScope to see if any crappie are holding on that tree. If he doesn’t spot any crappie, he’ll move on to the next tree and scan it. He also likes Humminbird 12 Mega Side-Scanning Depth Finder.
  • Fish a jig and slip-cork rig. In the spawn when the crappie move up into shallow water, anglers will fish a jig-and-cork rig. “We’ll use a slip cork and tie a Roadrunner jig under the cork about half the distance to the bottom,“ Milligan explains, with, “black and chartreuse jigs the crappie’s favorite colors.”
  • Fish with ACC Crappie Stix. “I’ve been fishing these poles for about a year,” Milligan explains. “The first time I put one of those Crappie Stix in my hand, I couldn’t believe how light it was, yet also how strong, and its sensitivity enables me to feel a very-light crappie bite.”

Learn more information about Les Milligan on his Facebook page or email him at, or call 903-445-6804. Learn more about Lake O’ the Pines at and

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