Selective oviposition can have important consequences for recruitment limitation and population dynamics of organisms with complex life cycles. Temporal and spatial variation in oviposition may be driven by environmental or behavioral constraints. The goals of this study were to: (1) develop an empirical model of the substrate characteristics that best explain observed patterns of oviposition by Baetis bicaudatus (Ephemeroptera), whose females lay eggs under rocks protruding from high-elevation streams in western Colorado; and (2) test experimentally selective oviposition of mayfly females. We surveyed the number and physical characteristics of potential oviposition sites, and counted the number and density of egg masses in different streams of one watershed throughout two consecutive flight seasons. Results of surveys showed that variability in the proportion of protruding rocks with egg masses and the density of egg masses per rock were explained primarily by seasonal and annual variation in hydrology, and variation in geomorphology among streams. Moreover, surveys and experiments showed that females preferred to oviposit under relatively large rocks located in places with high splash associated with fast current, which may provide visual, mechanical or both cues to females. Experiments also showed that high densities of egg masses under certain rocks were caused by rock characteristics rather than behavioral aggregation of ovipositing females. While aggregations of egg masses provided no survival advantage, rocks selected by females had lower probabilities of desiccating during egg incubation. Our data suggest that even when protruding rocks are abundant, not all rocks are used as oviposition sites by females, due to female selectivity and to differences in rock availability within seasons, years, or streams depending on variation in climate and hydrogeomorphology. Therefore, specialized oviposition behavior combined with variation in availability of quality oviposition substrata has the potential to limit recruitment of this species.