Abstract Large-scale migratory patterns of adult rheophilic fish [barbel, Barbus barbus (L.), chub, Leuciscus cephalus (L.), ide, Leuciscus idus (L.), nase, Chondrostoma nasus (L.)] were studied in relation to habitat quality and possible migration barriers in the lower rivers Meuse and Rhine, the Netherlands, using a telemetry system with transponders and detection stations based on inductive coupling. Most fish moved over short distances (<10 km), especially those residing in river stretches with high habitat diversity year-round. About 16% of fish used river stretches over 50 km and two ide moved more than 200 km along free-flowing river stretches. One-third of barbel, chub and nase from a Weir-regulated river stretch moved upstream during the spawning season to spawning habitats. Some fish resided in the areas immediately downstream of weirs and fishways during the spawning season, although it was unclear to what extent these observations reflected habitat choice or barriers to migration.