Abstract A modified ‘lock’ mode of operation was trialled within a low-slope (3.1%) vertical-slot fishway to improve passage of small-bodied (<60 mm long) native fishes in the Murray River, Australia. Significantly greater numbers of three small-bodied native fish and two crustacean species ascended the fishway during lock operation than during standard operation. Up to 9700 small-bodied fish and crustaceans exited during the lock operation in a single 2-h replicate. A deficiency of the temporary lock conditions was that large-bodied fish and their young-of-the-year (>50 mm long) did not ascend during the study. Considerable experimental work is required at other sites and at higher fishway slopes before widespread retro-fitting of lock gates. Nevertheless, these results highlight new options for potentially improving the ecological performance of existing pool-type fishways and new facilities.