Understanding the causal mechanisms that determine recruitment success is critical to the effective conservation of wild fish populations. Although recruitment strength is likely determined during early life when mortality is greatest, few studies have documented age-specific mortality rates for fish during this period. We investigated age-specific mortality of individual cohorts of two species of riverine fish from yolksac larvae to juveniles, assaying for the presence of a 'critical period'. A time when mortality is unusually high. Early life stages of carp gudgeons (Hypseleotris spp.) and unspecked hardyhead (Craterocephalus stercusmuscarum fulvus)'two fishes that differ in fecundity, egg size and overlap between endogenous and exogenous feeding'were collected every second day for four months. We fitted survivorship curves to 22 carp gudgeon and 15 unspecked hardyhead four-day cohorts and tested several mortality functions. Mortality rates declined with age for carp gudgeon, with mean instantaneous mortality rates (-Z) ranging from 1.40'0.03. In contrast, mortality rates for unspecked hardyhead were constant across the larval period, with a mean -Z of 0.15. There was strong evidence of a critical period for carp gudgeon larvae from hatch until 6 days old, and no evidence of a critical period for unspecked hardyhead. Total larval mortality for carp gudgeon and unspecked hardyhead up to 24 days of age was estimated to be 97.8 and 94.3%, respectively. We hypothesise that life history strategy may play an important role in shaping overall mortality and the pattern of mortality during early life in these two fishes.