A large size variation amongst life histories for stream-dwelling Atlantic salmon Salmo salar was found and the relative effect of life histories on size varied over time. As early as December (age 0+ years), fish that later smolted at age 2+ years were significantly larger than fish that did not smolt at age 2+ years. In contrast, there were no mass differences at age 0+ years between fish that would mature or not at age 1+ years (October). The mass differences between smolts and non-smolts persisted until smolting, and differences between mature and immature fish first appeared in May (age 1+ years). Following September (age 1+ years), there was also a significant interaction between smolting and maturity. Previously mature and immature age 2+ year smolts were not significantly different in size, but immature age 2+ year non-smolts were much lighter than mature age 2+ year non-smolts. Based on mass differences, the apparent 'decision' to smolt occurred c. 5 months before (winter, age 0+ years) the decision to mature (late spring, age 1+ years). In addition to strong seasonal growth variation, sizes of freshwater Atlantic salmon were largely structured by the complex interaction between smolt-age and maturity. ?? 2003 The fisheries Society of the British Isles.