This study investigates the effect of water temperature on the development rate of eggs and larvae, the duration of the endogenous feeding period and its consequences for recruitment of smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) in Dutch lakes IJsselmeer and Markermeer. This study measured temperature‐dependent egg and larval development rates as well as mortality rates from fertilization till the moment of absorption of the yolk‐sac and from yolk‐sac depletion onwards in temperature‐controlled indoor experiments. Using multinomial modelling the authors found significant differences in development time of egg development stages under different temperature regimes. Based on historic water temperatures, the model predicted that the larval endogenous feeding period has advanced at a rate of about 2.9 days per decade in a more than 50 year period since 1961, yet there was no change in the duration of the endogenous feeding period. As zooplankton is more responsive to daylight than water temperature cues, a mismatch between the peak of the onset of exogenous feeding of smelt and the peak of zooplankton blooms could lead to high mortality and therefore low recruitment of smelt. Such a mismatch might contribute to a decline in the smelt population in Lake IJsselmeer and Lake Markermeer.