Understanding the spatial distribution of fish species and fish trophic guilds in reef environments may help improve our knowledge about ecological relationships and therefore favour sound strategies for sampling, coastal management and conservation policy. To verify if small-scale changes are important in forming the fish community structure at a tropical rocky coastal island, we assessed the depth, structural complexity and wave exposure gradients. The community structure changed along all gradients analysed. The trophic guilds found on the sheltered, low and intermediate exposure zones, in the deepest areas and in areas of highest structural complexity showed significant differences when compared with the general assemblage. Rocky reefs, even of narrow (transversal) extension, can show great changes in fish community structure at so small a scale that these changes are generally overlooked. The relationships evidenced between community and environment provide strong support for the importance of considering a wide array of such distinct environmental conditions when determining the structure patterns of the community.