Bacteria impact humans, industry and nature, but do so under viral constraints. Problematically, knowledge of viral infection efficiencies and outcomes derives from few model systems that over-represent efficient lytic infections and under-represent virus-host natural diversity. Here we sought to understand infection efficiency regulation in an emerging environmental Bacteroidetes-virus model system with markedly different outcomes on two genetically and physiologically nearly identical host strains. For this, we quantified bacterial virus (phage) and host DNA, transcripts and phage particles throughout both infections. While phage transcriptomes were similar, transcriptional differences between hosts suggested host-derived regulation of infection efficiency. Specifically, the alternative host overexpressed DNA degradation genes and underexpressed translation genes, which seemingly targeted phage DNA particle production, as experiments revealed they were both significantly delayed (by >30 min) and reduced (by >50%) in the inefficient infection. This suggests phage failure to repress early alternative host expression and stress response allowed the host to respond against infection by delaying phage DNA replication and protein translation. Given that this phage type is ubiquitous and abundant in the global oceans and that variable viral infection efficiencies are central to dynamic ecosystems, these data provide a critically needed foundation for understanding and modeling viral infections in nature.