Eden Prairie, Minn., pro Austin Felix finished sixth in this year’s FLW Cup at Lake Hamilton, but he’s convinced that if the engineers operating Blakely Mountain Dam had released water on a more consistent schedule, the results might have been even better for him. Felix spent most of the tournament keying on the clear waters of Hamilton’s upper end.
“If they’d have pulled water like they did the first day, I’m pretty confident it would’ve been won up there by either myself, Dakota [Ebare] or Scott [Martin],” Felix says, “just because there were so many nicer fish up there swimming around and actually feeding.”
Felix wasn’t relying on current to position fish in any particular way. Rather, he wanted cold, clear water. He thinks the bass living in that cold water had a slower metabolism and where therefore a bit heavier. And they just bit better where it was gin clear.
In practice, Felix found clear water about five miles downstream from the dam. Yet, every day of the tournament, due to the release being later each day, the clear-water line slid farther upstream. Felix had to adjust and move with it.
“It was crystal clear up there during practice,” he says. “I was able to go down the bank, and you could see them cruising around up there. It just gave me confidence that there were fish there. But as the clear water moved, you had to move with it because either the fish wouldn’t bite in the dirty water or they just moved with the water.”
His weights slipped as a result. Felix weighed in 13 pounds, 5 ounces on day one, then followed with 9-4 and 7-13. His three-day total of 30-6 earned him his best Cup finish to date.
Felix spent most of the week fishing the main lake. While he had about four different patterns that he tested each day, on day one he did most of his damage skipping docks with a wacky-rigged 4-inch Yamamoto Senko and throwing to schoolers with a 2.8 Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbait on a 3/16-ounce All-Terrain Tackle Smallie Smasher Swimbait Head, which produced two nice fish. He also weighed in a 2 1/2-pounder from under a culvert.
On the second day, Felix made his adjustments, which included more brush pile fishing.
“I did some of that every day with a shaky head and that same swimmer,” he says. “I’d swim it over the top and get some of those fish that were sitting up high. They’d snatch at it once in a while. I never caught any good ones doing that, but on day two I filled out my limit doing that because I only had two at like 11 o’clock.”
To start day three, Felix ran to within about a half mile of the dam to check the conditions.
“The water was still like 85 degrees and dirty. I knew they hadn’t started pulling water, so I bailed on it early and didn’t go up there until later in the day when they started pulling current,” he says.
Once he saw the conditions at the dam, Felix ran back to the culvert, where he quickly landed four keepers with a 5-inch Senko. He bounced around midday on some brush, but when he talked to Josh Douglas, Jeremy Lawyer and Jordan Osborne and found out they were all struggling in the brush, even though they were mostly committed to it all week, he decided to ditch the brush entirely.
Eventually, Felix ran back up to the clearer flowing waters and caught one more 2-pounder on a Senko. He says by the time the water started flowing, it was just too late. To make matters worse, when he ran back to his culvert that afternoon there was a cow standing in it.
All in all, Felix describes the tournament as a “super grind.” He knew several ways to catch fish, but it almost took a junk-fishing approach to figure out which way to catch them each day based on the conditions and the clear-water line.