Steve Lessard departed Baton Rouge early last week, and returned home a week later a world champion. Make that “World Champion kayak angler” after he battled tough conditions on foreign waters, a top-flight, 47-man field from 19 countries and fished for three species he’d never caught.
For three days on the Vinkeveen Plassen, a series of three freshwater lakes in the northern reaches of the Netherlands, Lessard said he used his experiences of tackling hard-fighting Louisiana redfish, finicky speckled trout and south Louisiana freshwater species that enticed him to fish from a kayak years ago.
Pike, a toothy critter familiar to northern fishermen, was his main target for the fourth Hobie Fishing World Championship followed by perch, a sunfish species that resembles a bluegill on steriods.
And the third species?
“It’s called a ‘zander,’ a fish that’s a cousin to walleye, and a fish I wasn’t targeting because there weren’t enough of them,” Lessard said. “Other guys went after that fish, but I wasn’t going to waste my time on them.”
Lessard’s journey started when he won last fall’s IFA Championship in Houma, a title that earned him a spot on the five-man U.S. Hobie team.
“I knew it was a huge challenge for me. Everybody there was a champion,” Lessard said. “The Netherlands champion knew the waters; the Swedish and Norwegian champions are perch experts, and my U.S. teammates, and the Canadian champion have fished for pike and perch their whole lives.
“For me, all I could draw on was trout, bass and redfish, the experience from coastal fishing and apply what I could.”
It paid off: Lessard explained that guides led groups of qualifiers around the target lakes.
“I was interested in catching pike. That was the biggest fish there and I knew it would be the key fish,” he said. “The guide told us that we couldn’t throw baits big enough for pike. He held up a lure that was 20 inches long, and said that wasn’t big enough. Nothing in my box was close to that, so I went to a local shop to look for big baits.
“I knew there were lots of eels in the lake and I found a 12-inch long eel (lure). The thing weighed three ounces.”
Lessard drew on his Louisiana knowledge to pick the lake from among the three for his first-day casts.
“There were beautiful bulkheads where there was 10 feet of water and very clear water in two of the lakes — all the lakes were connected — but I picked the lake with dirtiest water, maybe six feet of visibility, and found an area with sloping banks that had lilies and cattails growing and knew it was special. It had pockets and holes, and I knew it was a place where eels would live and the pike would be there.
“I used the eel in practice and the pike were very aggressive.”
And he employed another Louisiana-learned tactic: “The other guys were using steel leaders because the pike have such large teeth, but I knew the water clarity would be a problem, so I used 50-pound (fluorocarbon line) for the leaders on the eel. I knew it would stand up to the pike and knew I’d catch fish.”
That paid off, too. Fighting wind and rain the first day, Lessard paddled to his spot, and almost immediately had a lead he wouldn’t relinquinsh.
“Five minutes into the day, I had a 106-centimeter pike, that’s 41.7 inches, and it was a good one. Its head was gigantic,” Lessard said. “It was the first one I’d ever tried to land, and I landed it the same way I land a bull redfish. I let it run just to tire him out, then netted him, let him flop, then shake the net and quiet him down. The difference is you have to use the gill plate to land it.”
Knowing the perch would not swim with the pike, he used a small crankbait off the banks to locate perch, then used a two-inch curly tail jig to add to his daily total. He repeated that for the second day, but changed tactics for their third day when skies cleared and winds calmed. He went to smaller lures and a smaller fluoro leader and brought in an 83-centimeter pike and a 29-centimeter perch and was the only angler to catch two fish each day. His three-day total was 364 centiemeters. The Canadian champion, Kyle Moxon, who was fishing with Lessard, finished second with 274.
And his prize? “A gold medal. It’s like the Olympics,” he said.
Lessard came home knowing his Bernhard Bros. job was waiting, and knowing this weekend’s IFA Championship commanded his presence. He’s fishing Friday for another title.