We used a natural experiment to test whether wildfire smoke induced changes in the vertical distribution of zooplankton in Lake Tahoe by decreasing incident ultraviolet radiation (UV). Fires have a variety of effects on aquatic ecosystems, but these impacts are poorly understood and have rarely been observed directly. UV is an important driver of zooplankton vertical migration, and wildfires may alter it over large spatial scales. We measured UV irradiance and the distribution of zooplankton on two successive days. On one day, smoke haze from a nearby wildfire reduced incident UV radiation by up to 9%, but not irradiance in the visible spectrum. Zooplankton responded by positioning themselves, on average, 4.1 m shallower in the lake. While a limited data set such as this requires cautious interpretation, our results suggest that smoke from wildfires can change the UV environment and distribution of zooplankton. This process may be important in drought‐prone regions with increasingly frequent wildfires, and globally due to widespread biomass burning.