Examples of the apparently stochastic nature of freshwater fish helminth communities illustrating the erratic and unpredictable occurrence and distribution of many species are provided for six species of fish from several localities throughout Britain. By focussing on parasite colonization strategies two categories of helminths are recognized: autogenic species which mature in fish and allogenic species which mature in vertebrates other than fish and have a greater colonization potential and ability. Three groups of fish are distinguished: salmonids, in which helminth communities are generally dominated by autogenic species which are also responsible for most of the similarity within and between localities; cyprinids, in which they are dominated by allogenic species which are also responsible for most of the similarity within and between localities; and anguillids, whose helminth communities exhibit intermediate features with neither category consistently dominating nor providing a clear pattern of similarity. Recognition and appreciation of the different colonization strategies of autogenic and allogenic helminths in respect of host vagility and ability to cross land or sea barriers and break down habitat isolation, and their period of residence in a locality, whether transient or permanent, provides an understanding of, and explanation for, the observed patchy spatial distribution of many helminths. Comparison with other parts of the world indicates that colonization is a major determinant of helminth community structure.