Understanding the environmental factors that regulate fish recruitment is essential for effective management of fisheries. Generally, first-year survival, and therefore recruitment, is inherently less consistent in systems with high intra- and interannual variability. Irrigation reservoirs display sporadic patterns of annual drawdown, which can pose a substantial challenge to recruitment of fishes. We developed species-specific models using an 18-year data set compiled from state and federal agencies to investigate variables that regulate the recruitment of walleye Sander vitreus and white bass Morone chrysops in irrigation reservoirs in south-west Nebraska, USA. The candidate model set for walleye included only abiotic variables (water-level elevation, minimum daily air temperature during winter prior to hatching, annual precipitation, spring warming rate and May reservoir discharge), and the candidate model set for white bass included primarily biotic variables (catch per unit effort (CPUE) of black crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus, CPUE of age-0 walleye, CPUE of bluegill Lepomis macrochirus and CPUE of age-3 and older white bass), each of which had a greater relative importance than the single abiotic variable (minimum daily air temperature during winter after hatching). Our findings improve the understanding of the recruitment of fishes in irrigation reservoirs and the relative roles of abiotic and biotic factors.