Explanations for positive and negative genetic correlations between growth and fitness traits are essential for life-history theory and selective breeding. Here, we test whether growth and survival display genetic trade-off. Furthermore, we assess the potential of third-party traits to explain observed genetic associations. First, we estimated genetic correlations of growth and survival of rainbow trout. We then explored whether these associations are explained by genetic correlations with health, body composition and maturity traits. Analysis included 14 traits across life stages and environments. Data were recorded from 249 166 individuals belonging to 10 year classes of a pedigreed population. The results revealed that rapid growth during grow-out was genetically associated with enhanced survival (mean rG = 0.17). This resulted because genotypes with less nematode caused cataract grew faster and were more likely to survive. Fingerling survival was not genetically related to weight or to grow-out survival. Instead, rapid fingerling growth made fish prone to deformations (rG = 0.18). Evolutionary genetics provides a theoretical framework to study variation in genetic correlations. This study demonstrates that genetic correlation patterns of growth and survival can be explained by a set of key explanatory traits recorded at different life stages and that these traits can be simultaneously improved by selective breeding.