The magnitude of fitness variation caused by maternal effects and, thus, the adaptive significance of maternal traits may depend on environmental quality, generating crossing reaction norms among offspring phenotypes that shape life–history evolution. By manipulating intraclutch variation in egg size and comparing siblings we examined the maternal effects of egg size on offspring performance and tested for the existence of reaction norms to environmental quality using the brown trout Salmo trutta. When sibling groups of small and large eggs were reared separately in a hatchery environment initial size differences disappeared rapidly. However, in semi-natural environments and under direct competition, juveniles from large eggs experienced growth and survival advantages over siblings from small eggs. Moreover, distinct reaction norms existed, with the differences in performance of juveniles from small and large eggs being most pronounced in the poorer growth environments. Our results provide the first direct evidence, to our knowledge, for a causal relationship between egg size and fitness-related traits in fishes, independent of potentially confounding genetic effects. Moreover, they indicate that previous studies have been biased by experimental conditions that excluded competitive asymmetries and environmental variability. The existence of reaction norms indicates a shift in optimal egg size across gradients of environmental quality that probably shapes the evolution of this trait.