By Dan Johnson

We’ve touched on many early-season panfish haunts in the past few weeks, from overlooked culverts and fish-rich canals to classic, fast-warming bays. As we look forward to transitioning from feeding to spawn-minded behavior across the Midwest, however, it’s worth noting how much of an effect weather and water conditions can have on fish location, as well as on spawning activity.

For example, just this morning I was touring the coves and creek channels of a major mid-southern impoundment, where my local source of intel told me the crappie spawn has all but ended.

As in other fisheries across the country, the reservoir’s water clarity plays a role in how deep crappies build their beds. In clear conditions, my friend’s least favorite scenario for bedfishing, nests may lie in depths of 8 feet or more.

“These are the toughest fish to find and catch, compared to those guarding beds in shallower water,” he explained. “When the fish are all tight to the bank, you can run down the shore, picking them off with a bobber and jig all day long.”

The link to water clarity extends to the north, where I’ve found crappies and other panfish spawning in extremely shallow water in fertile, algae stained lakes. In such cases, signs of swirling fish may your only clue to nesting colonies, because you literally can’t see the beds. Even in such cases, the fish still seek firm bottoms, so old reedbeds can be another great clue to spawning areas. Lightly used gravel boat landings can also be hotbeds of fish activity.

Erratic spring weather can also throw crappies and anglers a curve. In years with seemingly unending cold fronts, when it’s rare to get string of warm nights to help keep the shallows balmy around the clock, spawning behavior can be hit and miss. Conversely, stable warming conditions can cause many fish to hit the beds at the same time, triggering consistent fishing.

All of which makes the case for always being ready to rock and roll when heading onto the water for spring panfish. Even on lakes you’ve fished for decades, major changes in water temperature or clarity can throw a wrench in the most consistent of fishing patterns. When that happens, anglers armed with serious backup plans and a never-give-up attitude will catch fish when others can’t.