The hypothesis that body size and swimming velocity affect proximate body composition, wet mass and size-selective mortality of fasted fish was evaluated using small (107 mm mean total length, LT) and medium (168 mm mean LT) juvenile rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss that were sedentary or swimming (c. 1 or 2 body lengths-1) and fasted for 147 days. The initial amount of energy reserves in the bodies of fish varied with L T. Initially having less lipid mass and relatively higher mass-specific metabolic rates caused small rainbow trout that were sedentary to die of starvation sooner and more frequently than medium-length fish that were sedentary. Swimming at 2 body length s-1 slightly increased the rate of lipid catabolism relative to 1 body length s-1, but did not increase the occurrence of mortality among medium fish. Death from starvation occurred when fish had <3.2% lipid remaining in their bodies. Juvenile rainbow trout endured long periods without food, but their ability to resist death from starvation was limited by their length and initial lipid reserves. ?? 2004 The Fisheries Society of the British Isles.