Interspecific patterns of fish life histories were evaluated in relation to several theoretical models of life-history evolution. Data were gathered for 216 North American fish species (57 families) to explore relationships among variables and to ordinate species. Multivariate tests, performed on freshwater, marine, and combined data matrices, repeatedly identified a gradient associating later-maturing fishes with higher fecundity, small eggs, and few bouts of reproduction during a short spawning season and the opposite suite of traits with small fishes. A second strong gradient indicated positive associations between parental care, egg size, and extended breeding seasons. Phylogeny affected each variable, and some higher taxonomic groupings were associated with particular life-history strategies. High-fecundity characteristics tended to be associated with large species ranges in the marine environment. Age at maturation, adult growth rate, life span, and egg size positively correlated with anadromy. Parental care was inversely correlated with median latitude. A trilateral continuum based on essential trade-offs among three demographic variables predicts many of the correlations among life-history traits. This framework has implications for predicting population responses to diverse natural and anthropogenic disturbances and provides a basis for comparing responses of different species to the same disturbance.