Data for river populations of common freshwater species including dace, chub, roach, gudgeon and pike are examined to assess the magnitude of natural density-independent fluctuations in the strength of year-classes. Both in the cyprinid populations and in those of some salmonids, only occasional years give rise to large cohorts of adult fish. Correlations with temperature indicate that for the cyprinid populations these are often years when temperatures are high. In the River Frome, Dorset there is a significant relationship between the growth of O-group dace and subsequent year-class strength. Faster-growing larvae may be better able to avoid predation. Both the habitat and feeding requirements of these young fish are different from those of the adults. A practical approach to improving recruitment in a population of a given species would be to first characterize, and then increase, the availability of suitable habitats and food organisms for the larval stages.