Abstract To examine constraints on evolution of larger body size in two stunted populations of brook charr (Salvelinus fontinalis) from a single river in Cape Race, Newfoundland, Canada, we measured viability selection acting on length-at-age traits, and estimated quantitative genetic parameters in situ (following reconstruction of pedigree information from microsatellite data). Furthermore we tested for phenotypic differentiation between the populations, and for association of high juvenile growth with early maturity that is predicted by life history theory. Within each population, selection differentials and estimates of heritabilities for length-at-age traits suggested that evolution of larger size is prevented by both selective and genetic constraints. Between the populations, phenotypic differentiation was found in length-at-age and age of maturation traits, whereas early maturation was associated with increased juvenile growth (relative to adult growth) both within and between populations. The results suggest an adaptive plastic response in age of maturation to juvenile growth rates that have a largely environmental basis of determination.