2022 Salmon Derby Winner

The crew of the Oyl Can 2 and their $10,000 silver: (left to right) Kathy Oyler, Steve Oyler, Brian Hellmich.

Another Seward Silver Salmon Derby is in the books. Cloudy skies and rain were not able to keep anglers from the derby’s 67th outing, nor did the salmon keep their distance. At 14.59 pounds, this year’s winning fish beat last year’s winner by a significant margin, as well as the heaviest 2020 fish.

“We really appreciate all the anglers who came out to fish with us and the derby,” said derby spokesperson and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kat Sorensen. “We saw 1,500 anglers over the course of the nine-day derby, which is a little bit down but still really good, considering there was two or three weather days in there where a lot of boats were not able to leave the harbor.”

Over 1,200 fish were weighed over the course of the derby, cumulatively weighing just under 8,000 pounds, according to Sorensen.

“This is a little bit down over other big years,” she said, “but still a decent return.”

Submitted late last Tuesday, the $10,000-winning silver was caught by Anchorage’s Steve Oyler from his 22-foot Hugecraft Ocean Pro with his wife Kathy and his son-in-law Brian Hellmich. Oyler said that after bad weather prevented them from accessing several favorite spots, the party was almost ready to give up for the day when they decided to drop their lines on the way back to port.

“The weather was too bad, so we went back to Caines Head and we just started trolling all the way back towards Seward,” Oyler said. “We got probably ten minutes away from us being done fishing in the Derby Cove area.”

Having only caught one six-to-seven-pounder all day, the party was defeated. Cold and wet, they were warming themselves inside the Ocean Pro’s cabin when Oyler noticed a bite on his line.

“I was watching and saw it hit, and the pole bent over double,” he said. We knew right away it was a big one. It fought quite a bit. He never came out of the water. He didn’t jump. He didn’t do acrobatics or anything like some silvers do. He just felt big, and we got it in, and right away the first words I said is, ‘That’s either a derby winner or it’s going to be a king.’”

Though Oyler himself reeled the fish in, he was quick to credit his shipmates for their contributions to the catch.

“One person can’t catch a fish,” he said. “It takes a team, for sure. My wife was driving the boat, and she gets a big part of it. My son-in-law is the one that netted the fish. It took several attempts. We got her up and missed it.”

When they finally hauled it on board, Oyler instantly recognized that it was the biggest silver he had ever caught. 

“The one I caught was the biggest silver I ever caught, and I’ve caught many, many, many silvers in the past,” he said.

Back at the weigh-in booth, after receiving confirmation that it was indeed a silver and was also the heaviest, Oyler paid the $5 fee to buy back his salmon.

“One of our goals is to put fish in the freezer,” he said. “We took a million pictures and filleted it, vacuum-packed it, froze it, and we’re actually going to give it back to all the kids. This fish is special to us, so we’re going to give it to family and friends.”

Oyler went on to say that much of the $10,000 prize money will also be divided among family.

“I’ve got five granddaughters and no grandsons, and we’re giving every granddaughter $100,” he said. “Then I’ve got three kids. We’re going to give them a little bit of money. My son-in-law that netted the fish will get a little bit more money.”

The heaviest fish prize was joined by a few additional rewards this year. New to the 67th derby is an award for 67th heaviest fish, the prize for which is a Royal Caribbean cruise for two.

“That went to Eckleman family,” Chamber Director Sorensen said, “and we’re really excited for them to celebrate with a cruise and to have that prize continue. It’s a fun, random addition to the prize lineup.”

She then went on to thank all the many sponsors and volunteers.

“I definitely want to give a big shoot-out to all our food sponsors who kept our volunteers fed throughout the derby: The Port Hole, Firebrand Barbecue, Primrose Provisions, Safeway, The Lone Chicharron and The Smoke Shack,” she said. “We’re really grateful to all of them and to all of our volunteers who came out and helped weigh fish throughout the derby. It’s definitely a community effort to make such a great event happen each year, and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the Seward community stepping up!”

As to Oyler’s share of his prize money, he plans to invest it in several key boat upgrades he hopes will aid him in 2023’s derby and beyond.

“Partially because of this year being so wet, we’re going to get a partial canvas top on the back (of the boat), so if we have another wet derby, we’ll be a little more protected,” he said. “Also, the net we have was for our other boat, which is smaller and not as tall-sized. We probably lost four or five different silvers that we got up to the boat and we would have easily gotten if the net was a little bit longer. So that’s another purchase we’re going to do is buy a net that’s one-to-two foot longer.”

For a complete list of results in all categories, visit hbt.seward.com and click the Results button.