By Paul Lebowitz
Steve Lessard is the first visiting angler to win the Hobie Fishing World Championship crown. The defending IFA Kayak Tour Championship winner from Baton Rouge, Louisiana is considered a redfish wizard in the salt. His skills made the transition to European freshwater, where he proved the most capable of fooling the native pike and perch of Vinkeeven, the Netherlands. The zander, the third target species and a potential wild card, never came into play during the rainy and at times wind-blown three-day event.
Lessard cruised into the final day of competition enjoying a 72 point advantage. He was near the top from the start after logging a pike and a perch on day one, good for second place. Repeating the effort on day two rocketed him into the pole position, as Kyle Moxon of Canada also shot up the standings into second place. Moxon turned in a strong final day tally, scoring a 66-centimeter pike and a 28-cm perch. Lessard did him better, knocking down a 83-cm pike and a 29-cm perch to claim the championship with a 3-day total of 364 points to Moxon’s 274. Lessard was the only angler of the field to log six fish; everyone else had five or fewer.
Lessard is a quick study. He struggled on the prefishing day, but once he found a reliable pattern he roped big pike early on days one and two. That pattern shattered as the weather improved on day three. "Today I struggled for the first two hours with the pattern that I was on yesterday. That pattern didn't pan out so I had to make an adjustment and the power fishing that I had been doing was not working. The fish had moved and I went to finesse fishing. I went to a small jig and I caught my first pike and was able to stay with that pattern and upgrade that pike to another one,” Lessard said.
"Wow! What a tournament, what a world championship! I am so excited to have won. Anyone of us could have won, it's just that it was my day and I want to once again thank everyone who has supported me,” Lessard added.
Hobie fishing insiders had tabbed Moxon as a good candidate to take it all or finish on the podium. He expertly chases similar fish species back home in Canada’s chilly freshwater. Moxon downplayed the lofty expectations, saying he only hoped to have a good time and notch one big bite every tournament day. He did just that, scoring nice pike time after time.
“I caught five pike today. I've been at a lot of tournaments at home but this is the biggest stage that I have been on. What a great time. What great people, this has been a real special experience," Moxon said.
Australia’s Kevin Varty scored an impressive 95-cm pike and added a 35-cm perch to fly up the leader board into third overall with a final 206 points. “On day one of fishing I didn't catch any fish at all and I was pretty unhappy with that. On day two I got a 76-cm pike on 3-pound braid and 3-pound leader. That put my heart in my mouth there for a few minutes. Just as I got him in the net the line broke, but I had him, so that was all good. Coming into today I just didn't know what to expect. Could I get another pike? I didn't know, but I just went back to the same spot I'd been to the previous day and did the same thing. Just casting under the trees and letting the lure sink to the bottom, slowly hopping it back to the kayak and it paid off, Varty said.
Justin Ritchey of the USA wasn’t far behind with 185 points, good for fifth.
Notables: The Netherlands' Daniel van der Post, the European champion, had a tough day three, fading from sixth to 16th. Defending 2013 Hobie Fishing Worlds champion Richard Somerton of Australia turned in the best performance of day one, but couldn’t’ sustain the success and finished 13th. USA anglers and their final standings: Steve Lessard (1); Justin Ritchey (5); Justin Carter (17); Elias Vaisberg (20), Tom Michael (26), Scott Brenneman (tied, 36).
Hobie's worldy anglers competed on identically rigged Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12's outfitted with Lowrance electronics, Ram Mounting Systems and Power-Pole micro-anchors. Team America competitors (who finished 1-2) were named to the team on the strength of past international competition, or by winning one of six qualifying events staged across North America.