Freshwater fish diversity is shaped by phylogenetic constraints acting on related taxa and biogeographic constraints operating on regional species pools. In the present study, we use a trait-based approach to examine taxonomic and biogeographic patterns of life history diversity of freshwater fishes in North America (exclusive of Mexico). Multivariate analysis revealed strong support for a tri-lateral continuum model with three end-point strategies defining the equilibrium (low fecundity, high juvenile survivorship), opportunistic (early maturation, low juvenile survivorship), and periodic (late maturation, high fecundity, low juvenile survivorship) life histories. Trait composition and diversity varied greatly between and within major families. Finally, we used occurrence data for large watersheds (n = 350) throughout the United States and Canada to examine geographic patterns of life history variation. Distinct patterns of life history strategies were discernible and deemed congruent with biogeographic processes and selection pressures acting on life history strategies of freshwater fishes throughout North America.