Annual reproductive surveys monitored nesting location, reproductive success and the age and size of individually tagged male smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu that reproduced in Millers Lake, a 45 ha widening of the Mississippi River, Ontario, and in a 1·5 km pool and riffle section of the river directly upstream. The vast majority of males displayed fidelity to either the river or the lake as reproductive habitat throughout their lifetimes. Nearly, half of the males that reproduced in successive years exhibited strong nest‐site fidelity by nesting within 20 m of their previous year’s nest site. In most years, when compared to those in the lake, reproductive males in the river differed significantly in reproductive characteristics including age and size at maturation and nesting success rates. A 3 year telemetry project identified two distinct habitat use patterns: lake‐resident fish remained in the lake throughout the year and potamodromous individuals migrated from the lake to upriver spawning habitat in the spring and then returned to the lake prior to the onset of winter. Integration of habitat use and reproductive data suggests that there are significant differences in the life‐history strategies of fish that reproduce in the river v. the lake.