Catching bluegills on spawning beds in shallow water used to be almost as certain as honoring soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day weekend.

Many Americans think this holiday is all about bratwurst, potato salad and beer. But if it weren’t for the Greatest Generation that is quickly fading away, the potato salad would be German and the second syllable of bratwurst would be pronounced with a “v” instead of a “w.”

Panfish have taken a knee somewhere offshore rather than guarding plate-sized depressions just a cane-pole length out from the shoreline weeds for a couple reasons:

Water levels are the highest seen in southern Wisconsin in almost 20 years from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River and water temperatures are 10-15 degrees colder than the norm for the last weekend in May.

Last weekend, Bayfield County was blanketed with a couple inches of fresh snow, with Madison lakes an exceptionally ugly patchwork of floating globs of green as lakes were going through seasonal turnover.

Turnover is a mixing of the water column that occurs on many lakes in spring and autumn as water temperatures pass through the mid-50s. When lakes are transitioning through this process, pro anglers call conditions “tough” because describing these conditions as “a waste of time” is too hard on fragile egos.

Our lakes are pretty much done with turnover now, but temperatures have a ways to go before reaching the 68-72 degree water that pushes bass and panfish into spawning mode in shallow water.

Moon phase can impact this activity to a degree.

Full-moon conditions are ideal, but the next full moon isn’t until June 18. Mid-June should be prime time to find ’em on the beds in northern Wisconsin. Given prevailing conditions so far this crazy spring, I’m thinking next weekend should be showtime for shoreline action since the new moon is June 3.

There is a good chance panfish will be very close to where you found them last Memorial Day weekend—which can be up to three feet deeper in some lakes this year.

Frequent passage of cold fronts pushing considerable rain ahead of their arrival has roiled the shoreline in many cases, creating one more reason why you’re likely to find fish holding in just a little bit deeper water.

Hooking up still isn’t rocket science. Just put a pinch of nightcrawler on a small hook or a waxworm on a Bimbo Skunk pegged about 3 feet beneath a pencil float and pitch it toward shore and move slowly along until finding fish.

Shore anglers might try fishing main lake points—especially on the north side where spring sunshine warms the water quicker. Finding points adjacent to bays with dark bottoms is a plus. Dark bottoms warm faster than sandy or rocky bottoms.

Summer is finally winning the wrestling match of seasonal change. I fear summer will triumph in the time it takes to flip the switch from furnace to AC this year with only a day or two between. Maybe before next weekend.

It has been an inconvenient truth that good fishing has been a long time coming in Wisconsin all over the state this year. The only impact mankind has over this situation is keeping your line in the water.

Good times are on the way. If not today, for sure tomorrow.

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Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at