Numerous factors affect the fine-scale social structure of animal groups, but it is unclear how important such factors are in determining how individuals encounter resources. Familiarity affects shoal choice and structure in many social fishes. Here, we show that familiarity between shoal members of sticklebacks (
Gasterosteus aculeatus) affects both fine-scale social organization and the discovery of resources. Social network analysis revealed that sticklebacks remained closer to familiar than to unfamiliar individuals within the same shoal. Network-based diffusion analysis revealed that there was a strong untransmitted social effect on patch discovery, with individuals tending to discover a task sooner if a familiar individual from their group had previously done so than if an unfamiliar fish had done so. However, in contrast to the effect of familiarity, the frequency with which individuals had previously associated with one another had no effect upon the likelihood of prey patch discovery. This may have been due to the influence of fish on one another's movements; the effect of familiarity on discovery of an empty ‘control’ patch was as strong as for discovery of an actual prey patch. Our results demonstrate that factors affecting fine-scale social interactions can also influence how individuals encounter and exploit resources.