I believe College bass fishing is one of the best things to happen to our sport in the last 10 years. Whenever I do an interview with a college angler, I always wish that the clubs would have existed when I was in college. I noticed Stephen Jesso on Instagram and Twitter who not only fishes a lot of Pennsylvania waters I am familiar with, but is also an active member of the Penn State Fishing Club. Stephen was kind enough to talk to us about his involvement with the Penn State fishing club as well as his fishing throughout the State. I promise you’ll enjoy this read with this up and coming Collegiate angler.
Where are you from? And what made you pick Penn State as your school?
I am from Northeastern Pennsylvania in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. Honestly, Penn State was the only school I applied to. I looked up the GPA and SAT score that I needed to be accepted and focused completely on that in high school. I loved PSU since I was younger because of the environment of the campus…there’s a reason why it is called “Happy Valley”. Everyone is super nice and friendly here. You simply cannot beat it. And as soon as I found out there was a bass club, my heart was dead set on being a Nittany Lion. WE ARE…
How did you get interested in the Penn State bass fishing club?
My father fished tournaments at a local level when I was very young and used to take me out when he would go out to pre-fish. Eventually I got old enough to fish the tournaments with him and that’s when I started to become addicted. I haven’t missed an elite or FLW TV show or monthly magazine since.
During my senior year in high school, I began researching what it would take for me to reach that level. I believe I was researching BFL’s when I found out about Penn State bass fishing. I’ve heard about college fishing before but never really thought it was a thing around this part of the country. I looked into them and made up my mind of making my parents happy by getting a degree while the entire time I was doing that I could still chase my dream of fishing professionally.
What were your favorite moments of the FLW Collegiate tournament series for you as an angler from 2016?
Hmm, this is actually a really tough question for me to answer because that series was such a disaster from the beginning. Between breaking trolling motor cables the morning of the tournament to not being able to do any pre-fishing, it was definitely a tough season. I did have some good moments though through all the bad.
My first one would have to be all of the friends I made during the season. Bass fishing has some of the best sportsmanship when it comes to competitive sports and it really shows throughout the tournaments. It’s like always walking around in Happy Valley when you’re near one of those weigh in stages. Everyone is so nice and will help you out in whatever way you need it except maybe giving up the secret bait.
My next favorite moment was going to Bojangle’s with the rest of the team after we got our butts handed to us at Smith Mountain. It was just a very frustrating day for everyone and that team dinner made the 6-hour drive a little bit easier with a whole lot less tension. To be honest one of the things I’m looking forward to most this upcoming year is getting my hands on some more Bo berry biscuits.
Another favorite moment from the series would be traveling further from home than I have ever been before. I always wanted to travel but just never had the time or money and this year the series definitely made me come out of my comfort zone. And I loved it! Since then I have been traveling all over the place.
Next would have to be the experience of fishing a huge tournament. My local club is usually right around 20 boats. Bumping up to the 70+ boat tournament was definitely an awesome experience.
Finally, my last favorite moment on the series was watching my fellow teammates Derek Horner and Clayton Frey win the Chautauqua event. They’re both real good guys and in my opinion wanted that win more than anyone else in the field. It was awesome seeing them bring those trophies back to State College, and I wish them all the luck in the world at the National Championship!
Describe the level of competition you face when fishing on that series.
To be completely blunt the level of competition is a million times tougher than I anticipated. I’ve been fishing competitively since I was about 16 with a local club called the PA Bass Casters, and even though it is a small club I can guarantee you that they are some of the best sticks in North Eastern Pennsylvania.
So taking what I have learned from getting my butt whopped from those guys over the years, I thought the college series would be a piece of cake. Boy was I wrong, these guys and girls in the college level can straight up fish and you need to bring your “A” game if you plan on doing any good. Trust me, I made the mistake of underestimating them, and they showed me real quick I was going to have to start pre-fishing these lakes for more than a day.
I believe I saw that you graduate in spring 2017. Will you be fishing with the team still in 2017? If so, what are your goals for the tournament season?
I have actually picked up a Business and Forestry minor to go along with my Fisheries degree, so I’m now graduating in spring 2018. This means that I get to fish two more years with the team, and I will be fishing tournaments all of this year and then all of 2018 also.
My goals for the next two seasons are simple. I want to focus on making cuts, learning as much as I can, and making connections. I’m not going to lie, I would be very disappointed in myself if I am not in the 2018 and 2019 national championships. I know I have the talent to make it there. I just need to apply myself more than I did last year. In terms of making connections, I really would like to focus on meeting as many people as possible and really getting my name out there to the point where it is recognized in the fishing industry.
Do you have interest in pursuing tournament fishing at the next level after College?
I definitely will pursue tournament fishing at the next level after college, and I also think I will always fish tournaments. Until recently my dream has been to fish on the pro level, and it still is definitely a huge dream of mine but I am starting to lean towards the videography side more and more. People think that the pros have it easy and what they don’t understand is that them catching fish is what puts food on their table. If they don’t make a check, they could end up in a lot of trouble and that is an enormous amount of stress to put on one’s self. The videography side of the fishing industry is about to blow up too. It’s something you see more and more guys doing, and it’s only going to get more popular. But, that doesn’t mean I’m ever going to stop trying to reach the pro level…I just have a backup dream in case.
There are several lakes that you have filmed YouTube videos that I would like to discuss. What are your keys to fishing on Pennsylvania’s Lake Wallenpaupack?
Points, points, and points. Fishing windblown points out there can produce some really nice bags of smallmouth. Also the smallmouth love to suspend near the abundant floating docks that there is on the lake. If you are fishing a tournament though, you probably will need one kicker largemouth to win. Look towards grass and the more shallow docks for the green fish.
Beltzville State Park is not always the easiest place to fish. What advice do you have for anglers he may be fishing it for the first time?
I actually have a really hard time here also, and thankfully my club has not been back there for quite some time. It is a very beautiful lake but the fishing is just tough! If you are going to fish it, try hitting every piece of wood you can find. The fish love wood in that place for some reason. I also usually stick to the grass flats by the power lines and do not be afraid to throw a lure in places you would think that are too shallow for bass. I have a video on YouTube that shows me literally catching a fish where I have no idea how its back was not out of the water.
What are your other favorite PA waters to fish?
My top three favorite PA waters to fish are the Susquehanna River, Harvey’s Lake, and Sylvan Lake. Each comes with special little characteristics that make them special to me. The Susquehanna River is where I grew up fishing. I live about a 10 minute walk from the river back home and countless memories from my childhood are of standing on that muddy bank catching smallmouth all day long. That is the place that made me fall in love with bass fishing, and it’s also my confidence booster. Whenever I go into a slump, I will grab a rod and head down there to catch some fish and get back into the groove of things.
I have a love/hate relationship with the next place, Harvey’s Lake. Ask me in the beginning of spring and at the end of fall and I will tell you that it is by far my favorite lake. You can catch 3 ½ to 4-pound smallies all day long until your arms are ready to fall off. As soon as summer hits, you would swear you are fishing a different lake. A good day is catching three fish out there during the summer unless you go in the late hours of night.
Sylvan Lake is my go to practice lake. It is extremely close and the only people that fish it are the locals. The amount of huge fish out there is limited but 2-pound fish are everywhere. It also has everything, you can throw a frog, punch, fish a point, a flat, skip docks, etc. It’s like my own piece of heaven out there and it’s small enough that not too many people even think to throw their bass boat on it.
Great stuff Stephen! Thank you for doing the interview. We will be following your tournament success and your rise in the fishing industry.
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