The intensity of male–male aggression during mating is predicted to increase with the operational sex ratio (OSR) (the ratio of sexually active males to females). We observed aggressive behaviour in relation to OSR within alternative phenotypes (large anadromous males and small ‘sneaker’ mature male parr) of Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, as they competed for access to anadromous females in large outdoor arenas immediately prior to spawning events as well as throughout the spawning season. Anadromous males were primarily aggressive outside of spawning events, and their aggression increased with OSR over a narrow range of 0.08–4. By contrast, mature male parr were aggressive just prior to spawning, with a decrease in aggression over a broad range of OSRs from 1 to 7.4. Similarly, literature data for three other salmonid species indicated a decrease in aggression with increasing OSRs over a range of 1–6.33. These observations suggest that there is considerable variability in competitive behaviour, even within alternative phenotypes. Because our data are derived from repeated observations on the same individuals of different genetic origin, further confirmation of these findings is desirable. Nevertheless, our study underscores the importance of measuring competitive behaviour and OSR at ecologically relevant spatial and temporal scales, both of which may differ between alternative maturation phenotypes.