The ontogenetic patterns of habitat use by a community of fishes in the main channel of the Broken River, an Australian lowland river, was investigated. Stratified sampling was conducted fortnightly across six habitat types throughout the spring‐summer period within the main channel. As predicted by the 'low flow recruitment hypothesis', backwaters and still littoral habitats were important nursery habitats for most species. These habitats were found to be used by some species throughout all stages of their life cycle, while other species showed clear ontogenetic shifts in habitat preference. Only one species, Murray cod Maccullochella peelii peelii, was never found in backwaters. This study confirms the significance of main channel habitats in the rearing of larvae of some riverine fish species, and emphasizes the importance of considering the habitat requirements of all stages of a fish's life cycle in the management and restoration of rivers and streams.