Knowledge of temporal variation in nearshore Laurentian Great Lakes fish assemblages is important for understanding species–habitat associations, how abiotic and biotic influences vary temporally, and when sampling should occur. Using spring and fall seining data from Lake Erie beaches, we compared day and night fish assemblages and tested for differences among sampling periods. Beaches were utilized by a diverse collection of Lake Erie basin fishes (one-third of known species). During all sampling periods, catches were dominated by cyprinid species (53–91%), and by invertivores and planktivorous fishes. Diel differences were detected in abundance, species richness and assemblage structure. Multivariate analyses (canonical analysis of principal coordinates) indicated that season had a larger influence on fish assemblage structure than diel period. Given observed temporal variation in assemblage structure, studies of Laurentian Great Lakes beach fishes should be restricted to a single time period (e.g. day-time spring sampling), or adopt sampling designs that permit diel period and season to be included as factors in analyses. Second, the large seasonal variation in assemblage composition combined with higher night species richness indicates that night sampling during both spring and fall would be the most efficient and comprehensive approach for beach fish inventory.