Numerous studies have attempted to determine whether stream fish communities are structured primarily by deterministic or stochastic processes. Previous work has assumed that stream fish communities will show either persistence about an equilibrium because of strong density-dependent processes or random variation in structure as a result of environmental stochasticity. In a 10-year study of a California stream, fish community structure changed under the influence of storm-induced high discharge events that impacted recruitment. Species\textquoteright relative abundances were altered as pre-recruitment stream discharges differentially influenced year-class strength among species with contrasting life histories. Simulation of stream fish community assembly under flow-driven recruitment variation indicates that community structure will vary depending on how particular high-flow events affect species\textquoteright relative abundances and ongoing density-dependent processes, including competition and predation. Results suggest that stream fish communities are likely to show alternate states rather than a single persistent equilibrium. However, community assembly will not be random but will depend on situation-specific interactions between density-independent and density-dependent processes.