In higher vertebrates, two opposite behavioral coping strategies can be distinguished that are associated by a typical neuroendocrine pattern. Little is known about the individual variation in the stress response in lower vertebrates such as teleosts. In the present study, rainbow trout were fitted with an indwelling aortic catheter for repeated blood sampling and exposed to severe hypoxia and subsequent recovery and their behavior was characterized semiquantitatively during hypoxia. Blood levels of catecholamines, cortisol, glucose, FFA, lactate, and electrolytes were measured. About 60% of the fish survived the experiment whereas the others died during the recovery period. Behavioral strategy appeared to be highly related to survival since nonsurviving fish displayed strenuous avoidance behavior involving burst type activity whereas surviving fish did not panic and remained quiet. These behavioral differences were associated with marked differences in plasma catecholamine levels, which were 4- to 5-fold higher in nonsurviving fish as compared to survivors whereas the cortisol response tends to be lower in nonsurviving fish. Plasma lactate levels in nonsurvivors were 4- to 5-fold higher as compared to survivors while a severe hyperkalemia developed during recovery indicating the loss of intracellular homeostasis. The individual differences in behavioral concepts and neuroendocrine activation observed in rainbow trout during stress show great similarity with the active and passive coping strategies distinguished in higher vertebrates and may be determinant for survival during hypoxia.