Providing efficient downstream passage is critical for improving populations of migratory fishes in impounded river systems. High‐head dams, such as those used for water storage or flood‐risk management, pose unique passage challenges requiring unique solutions. Systems to collect fish in dam forebays (“forebay collectors”) for transport to downstream release locations have been used at some high‐head dams in the western United States since the 1950s. Collection efficiency of these facilities has ranged from nearly 0% to 100%, suggesting the need for a better understanding of factors affecting performance in these complex environments if they are to be designed and deployed at new sites. We compiled information on environmental, structural, and performance characteristics of seven existing forebay collectors to quantify factors affecting their performance based on a meta‐analysis using a data set containing 52 separate collection estimates. Covariates included species type (steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss, Chinook Salmon O. tshawytscha, Coho Salmon O. kisutch, and Sockeye Salmon O. nerka), collector inflow, collector entrance area, relative size of the dam forebay, and whether or not nets were used to enhance collection. We found that inflow, the use of lead nets, the size of the collector entrance area, the relative size of the dam forebay, and the interaction between collector entrance and forebay areas were significant predictors of collection performance. There was also evidence for differences between species. Chinook Salmon exhibited the lowest collection rates among the projects we examined, while steelhead collection rates were highest. These results provide guidance to design more efficient forebay collectors and improve the success of existing systems.