Reservoirs impounded over floodplain rivers are unique because they may include within their upper reaches extensive shallow water stored over preexistent floodplains. Because of their relatively flat topography and riverine origin, floodplains in the upper reaches of reservoirs provide broad expanses of vegetation within a narrow range of reservoir water levels. Elsewhere in the reservoir, topography creates a band of shallow water along the contour of the reservoir where vegetation often does not grow. Thus, as water levels rise, floodplains may be the first vegetated habitats inundated within the reservoir. We hypothesized that shallow water in reservoir floodplains would attract spawning white crappies Pomoxis annularis earlier than reservoir embayments. Crappie relative abundance over five years in floodplains and embayments of four reservoirs increased as spawning season approached, peaked, and decreased as fish exited shallow water. Relative abundance peaked earlier in floodplains than embayments, and the difference was magnified with higher water levels. Early access to suitable spawning habitat promotes earlier spawning and may increase population fitness. Recognition of the importance of reservoir floodplains, an understanding of how reservoir water levels can be managed to provide timely connectivity to floodplains, and conservation of reservoir floodplains may be focal points of environmental management in reservoirs.