Austin Felix has chalked up some pretty impressive accomplishments in his time with FLW. From winning the YETI FLW College Fishing National Championship in 2014 to a handful of top 10s on the FLW Tour and three FLW Cup appearances, the Minnesotan has proved he can fish around the country.
This year, fishing the Northern Division of the Costa FLW Series, Felix proved just how good he is at catching smallmouths. He ripped off three top-10 finishes and earned more points than anyone else fishing any of the five Costa FLW Series divisions in 2018 to lock up the division’s Strike King Angler of the Year award.
Felix went into the season with high expectations for himself, but didn’t really set out to win AOY.
“It felt great,” says Felix of his AOY win, “but it was kind of a secondary goal. My main goal this year was to try to win Champlain. But I didn’t quite come through on that one [he finished third]. After the second event on Erie [sixth place] I thought I had a pretty good shot at it. But with them all being smallmouth events I knew you were probably going to have to top 10 all three of them to have a shot.”
Felix hopped in Champlain with his eye on bedding smallmouths. He’s very adept at finding and catching spawning brown fish, and that’s now paid off with a pair of top-10 finishes on Champlain – a lake that is more than 1,000 miles from his home.
Of course, it wasn’t just Champlain that he liked.
“I jumped in it mainly for Champlain, but when I saw the schedule I wanted to fish them all,” says Felix. “I didn’t fish the Northern Opens this year because B.A.S.S. got rid of that, so the Northern Division of the FLW Series was essentially the same thing, and it kinda started up as the Tour was winding down. And with all the smallmouths I thought it might be a chance to pad the bank account a little bit.
“It’s really rare that a circuit sets up where you have the opportunity to fish three smallmouth tournaments, let alone three in a row,” says Felix. “Usually I’ll get maybe one or two shots in a year to go after northern smallmouths. I mean, if you look at my results doing that, I usually do pretty well. So, with a New York smallmouth circuit I was ready to go. I was also sick of hearing about the Johnstons always winning everything, so I figured I’d knock them down a peg.”
Whether Felix actually got in it with an eye toward beating the legendary Canadian brothers, the end result put him on top. It’s impressive enough on the surface, but when you account for the fact that Felix had never been to the 1000 Islands and only been to Erie once, it’s even more remarkable.
“The Great Lakes thing was new. I had to learn that as I went,” explains Felix. “I don’t usually graph for smallmouths in Minnesota. On Mille Lacs you can’t really see them well. You have to fish for them because they hide in the rocks so bad. Whereas on the Great Lakes they tend to get off the bottom a little more, and you can mark them better.”
Mark them he did. In three days of competition on Erie and Ontario Felix weighed more than 22 pounds of smallies each day. As a result, he finished sixth at Erie and eighth at the 1000 Islands, which was more than enough to back up his third-place finish at Champlain to start the season.
Felix got things kicked off with a bronze-medal finish at Champlain and stayed hot from there.
Felix weighed 59-1 over three days on Champlain, nearly averaging 20 pounds a day and finishing third. As everyone expected, sight-fishing dominated the tournament, and Felix was able to hang with the locals and the veteran Northern Division sticks in fine style. There, he relied on a green pumpkin 3-inch Keitech Shad Impact on a drop-shot rig, a Ned rig and a tube. Other than the tube, he could have probably used just two rods all year.
Launching out of Buffalo on the eastern end of Erie, one or more canceled days were a distinct possibility. Going out on day one, Felix sacked up 22-12 to sit in sixth. And that was it. The next two days of competition fell victim to the wind.
Felix had never been to the eastern end of Erie before, but he got it done when it mattered.
“I’m not sure if the cancelation helped me or not,” says Felix. “I was fishing around a bunch of people, but I had a couple of sweet spots where the fish were setting up. On the first morning, as other people were pulling in there and showing up, I was catching them really good. I had over 22 pounds in the first 35 or 40 minutes. If it held up and if people stayed off of it I felt like I could have moved up, but there were so many people, and I was a late boat draw the second day. So, if a couple of the sweet spots were covered up I would have had to scramble.”
Day three at the 1000 Islands was battled out on the St. Lawrence River because of the wind, and it dramatically reshaped the top 10. Felix did enough on the first two days fishing in Lake Ontario to make the top 10 and end up in eighth place with 57-12.
After a little struggling in the river in practice, Felix found his groove on the lake. Fishing deep for bass he could graph, he used pretty much the same stuff he used at Erie: a Ned rig with a Z-Man Big T.R.D on a 3/8-ounce Treeshaker Tackle prototype head, and a drop-shot with a 2.8 or 3.3 Keitech Swing Impact FAT (goby color).
For winning the 2018 Costa FLW Series Northern Division Strike King Angler of the Year award, Austin Felix earned an extra $5,000 in cash. Additionally, cash payouts of $4,000, $3,000, $2,500 and $2,000 went to the other top five pros. The top 40 pros and 40 co-anglers in the division standings qualified for the Costa FLW Series Championship.
The top 10 anglers in the standings, including AOY points earned:
1. Austin Felix – Eden Prairie, Minn. – 736
2. Chris Johnston – Peterborough, Ontario – 728
3. Ron Nelson – Berrien Springs, Mich. – 726
4. Neil Farlow – St. Catherines, Ontario – 714
5. Bradley Dortch – Atmore, Ala. – 707
6. Cory Johnston – Cavan, Ontario – 706
7. Joseph Wood – Westport, Mass. – 704
8. Carl Jocumsen – Queensland, Australia – 692
9. Matt Becker – Finleyville, Penn. – 676
10. AJ Slegona – Pine Bush, N.Y. – 672