The fishing in south Louisiana is often referred to as world-class. That’s the reason that Hobie Cat Company chose Leeville as the site for the sixth annual Hobie Fishing World Championship held there in mid-December 2016.
After three days of fishing in challenging, windy conditions, Prairieville’s Steve Lessard won the top prize, becoming the first two-time champion. Representing Australia, Richard Somerton took home a hard-fought second place and Matthew Vann of Pensacola, Fla., finished out the podium with his third-place finish.
Competitors from 17 countries fished for trout, flounder and redfish from identically rigged Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 14s, outfitted with Lowrance Electronics, Power-Pole MICRO™ Anchors, Yak-Attack accessories, Ram Mounts and equipment including Daiwa, Lurefans, Hobie Polarized and AFTCO gear. Competion was under a Catch-Photo-Release scoring format. The longest length of each species caught were combined for a three-day total.
Bass pro Michael Iaconelli surprised the 49 international competitors when he showed up at the welcome dinner to cheer them on.
“Unlike the competitions that I’m involved in, kayak fishing takes more strategy because it is much different and more difficult pedaling to the fish than racing over in a motorized boat,” said Iaconelli, who attended returned for the awards ceremony to participate in the camaraderie that is an integral part of the event.
Leeville offered a Louisiana “bayou” way of life and memorable experience for both U.S. and international competitors. According to Hobie’s Keeton Eoff, the area could easily be the kayak fishing capital of the world.
Members of Louisiana’s Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club provided pre-fishing coaching assistance to the anglers, especially the foreign ones, some who spoke little to no English.
“The anglers caught tons of fish as pre-fishing conditions could not have been better,” said club member Tommy Eubanks, who himself was a Hobie Worlds competitor when the event was held in Australia.
However, an ill-timed cold front crashed through on the first day of competition and made fishing tough. Falling temperature, gale-force winds, strong currents and extremely low water all combined to challenged the anglers’ skill.
The fishing was tough, but at the close of day one, Team USA had seven members in the top 10, including Lessard, in third place. Day two conditions went from bad to worse. The weather was cold, the winds strong and the water gone. Although many anglers struggled, several were able to put fish on the board. Lessard finished the day in first place with a 10-inch lead over Somerton, who won the 2013 event in his home country.
The final day was a true battle of the champions. Lessard held on and expanded his lead to 16 inches.
“Yesterday, I just hung on for dear life, but today, with this weather coming through, it was ‘Plan C.’ I knew today, I just had to get two fish. I fell back to a winter pattern,” he said. “I found a little isolated area with still water that was deep and cold. I managed to pull a surprisingly good trout early. I was then able to move around to some pilings to pull a redfish that was a keeper, and at that point, the pressure was off and I could relax and go redfishing.”
Lessard went on to find a 28-inch redfish to cement his win.
“Decisions that run through your mind while competing are endless, and in a kayak if you make a bad decision on the area you choose, there is no turning back,” he said. “You’re there — you just have to make best of it.”
Lessard is a great fisherman and a true champion.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” he said. “What an honor and a privilege to compete with the best kayak fishermen in the world at Hobie Fishing Worlds 6. I want to thank all my friends and family for their support, especially my wife Rita. This is a dream come true.”
Hobie officials had nothing but praise for their decision to hold the event in south Louisiana.
“People from all over the world with similar interests not only compete, but share expertise, knowledge and skills. In the end, there is one world champion, but everyone goes home feeling better about themselves, with new friends, new skills and having had a cultural experience in a part of the world they, otherwise, may never have visited. We could not have chosen a better location,” said Steve Fields, the managing director of Cat Australasia.