When Wes Oetinger first came to Seward nine years ago, he was fleeing an unhappy relationship and hoping to find work doing what he loves, guiding hunters and anglers.
He recognized Seward as a sport-fishing paradise, but Seward didn’t respond to his enthusiasm.
“I couldn’t get a job as guide,” he said. So he went to work at Resurrection Bay Seafoods and fished in his spare time. That summer he caught 400 salmon. His success at catching salmon without setting foot in a boat sparked an idea. Why not forego the cost of a boat and all the related expenses and take anglers on shore-based excursions?
The following summer he approached Mike Miller, owner of Millers Landing, and pitched the idea.
“He wasn’t convinced, he said ‘you won’t make any money but give it a try,’ ” Oetinger recalled. “The rest is history.”
Today Oetinger works through the Hotel Seward and guides anglers all summer long. He says his shore-based fishing trips appeal to a wide variety of sport fishermen.
“Sometimes people don’t want to take their kids on boats,” he said, and “some guys have been on a boat and have enough halibut and want to get some salmon.”
Others, he added, don’t like boats or suffer from seasickness, or just prefer the land-based experience.
While seagoing charters come with the added bonus of Resurrection Bay’s spectacular seascapes, landscapes and sea mammal sightings, the land-based experience has it bonuses too.
“The other morning we did a 2 a.m. trip to avoid the crowds,” he said. “We slayed some sockeye and we got some kings and we had a brown bear fishing too, within 20 yards of us.” He said that encounter was a bit close, but when a bear is getting its fill of salmon, they usually keep to themselves.
“The bears just want fish,” he said. “We don’t bother them, they don’t bother us.”
Oetinger says he caters each guided experience to the wants and needs of the client. “Some of the beaches we can drive to, some you walk a half a mile to get there.”
Shore-based fishing also extends the season, Oetinger added.
“First part of June, no charters are targeting sockeye,” he said. “You have to target them in the mouths of rivers or off the beaches.”
June also is the time to seek out king salmon, which he does with a high rate of success. In July, he focuses on sockeye, and come August, it’s silver time.
His most memorable guiding trip was with a boy named Dougy and his mom. Dougy was small and Wes had to help hold the pole for him. They were in about two feet of water, reeling in a nice silver when the fish spit the hook.
“The kid dives on the fish, and somehow, comes up with it, he drops it and comes up again,” Wes said. There must have been 200 people on the beach, you would have thought the Raiders had won the Super Bowl, the cheering was incredible.”
To make a reservation with Oetinger or to get more information, call the Hotel Seward, (800) 440-2444 or (907) 224-8001, or visit www.hotelsewardalaska.com.