Many fish species are at risk to some degree, and conservation efforts are planned or underway to preserve sensitive populations. For many imperiled species, models could serve as useful tools for researchers and managers as they seek to understand individual growth, quantify predator-prey dynamics, and identify critical sources of mortality. Development and application of models for rare species however, has been constrained by small population sizes, difficulty in obtaining sampling permits, limited opportunities for funding, and regulations on how endangered species can be used in laboratory studies. Bioenergetic and life history models should help with endangered species-recovery planning since these types of models have been used successfully in the last 25 years to address management problems for many commercially and recreationally important fish species. In this paper we discuss five approaches to developing models and parameters for rare species. Borrowing model functions and parameters from related species is simple, but uncorroborated results can be misleading. Directly estimating parameters with laboratory studies may be possible for rare species that have locally abundant populations. Monte Carlo filtering can be used to estimate several parameters by means of performing simple laboratory growth experiments to first determine test criteria. Pattern-oriented modeling (POM) is a new and developing field of research that uses field-observed patterns to build, test, and parameterize models. Models developed using the POM approach are closely linked to field data, produce testable hypotheses, and require a close working relationship between modelers and empiricists. Artificial evolution in individual-based models can be used to gain insight into adaptive behaviors for poorly understood species and thus can fill in knowledge gaps. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2008.