Classical Darwinian adaptation to a change in environment can ensue when selection favours beneficial genetic variation. How plastic trait responses to new conditions affect this process depends on how plasticity reveals to selection the influence of genotype on phenotype. Genetic accommodation theory predicts that evolutionary rate may sharply increase when a new environment induces plastic responses and selects on sufficient genetic variation in those responses to produce an immediate evolutionary response, but natural examples are rare. In Iceland, marine threespine stickleback that have colonized freshwater habitats have evolved more rapid individual growth. Heritable variation in growth is greater for marine full-siblings reared at low versus high salinity, and genetic variation exists in plastic growth responses to low salinity. In fish from recently founded freshwater populations reared at low salinity, the plastic response was strongly correlated with growth. Plasticity and growth were not correlated in full-siblings reared at high salinity nor in marine fish at either salinity. In well-adapted lake populations, rapid growth evolved jointly with stronger plastic responses to low salinity and the persistence of strong plastic responses indicates that growth is not genetically assimilated. Thus, beneficial plastic growth responses to low salinity have both guided and evolved along with rapid growth as stickleback adapted to freshwater.