This paper provides an assessment of the biological attributes of fish species in south-eastern Australia and rates their potential risk from the impacts of drought. We used scientific literature and expert opinion to conduct a semiquantitative assessment of attributes considered to influence species resistance and resilience to drought for 15 freshwater fish species found in south-eastern Australia. We also present a conceptual framework to guide management of fish populations during drought. The framework focuses on (1) quantifying spatial variation in the severity of drought impacts on particular habitats (rivers, wetlands etc.), (2) assembling information on drought sensitivities of regionally important species, (3) identifying high risk areas (based on species sensitivity and drought severity), (4) determining and implementing appropriate management actions (pre-emptive, responsive), (5) monitoring outcomes and (6) disseminating information on outcomes. In many regions, historic population declines will serve to exacerbate the impacts of drought, and thus are a major threat to successful recovery from drought. Although we discuss both long-term, pre-emptive planning and short-term, responsive management actions, we contend that a long-term view is required to successfully address the threats posed by drought. Furthermore, although droughts clearly represent a severe disturbance to fish populations, ultimately it is anthropogenic factors that exacerbate drought and constrain recovery pathways (at global, regional and local scales), rather than drought per se. These factors must be addressed if we are to ensure the long-term viability of fish populations in inland aquatic ecosystems.