We determined the capture efficiency of a beach seine as a means of improving abundance estimates of small fishes in littoral areas. Capture efficiency for 14 taxa (individual species or species groups) was determined by seining within an enclosure at night over fine and coarse substrates in the John Day Reservoir, Oregon–Washington. Mean efficiency ranged from 12% for prickly sculpin Cottus asper captured over coarse substrates to 96% for peamouth Mylocheilus caurinus captured over fine substrates. Mean capture efficiency for a taxon (genus or species) was generally higher over fine substrates than over coarse substrates, although mean capture efficiencies over fine substrates were significantly greater for only 3 of 10 taxa. Capture efficiency generally was not influenced by fish density or by water temperature (range, 8–26°C). Conclusions about the relative abundance of taxa captured by seining can change substantially after capture efficiencies are taken into account.