By Miles Burghoff
Special to BassFan
Going into the final day of last weeks FLW College Fishing National Championship, all eyes were on the team of Brian Eaton and Nick LaDart fishing for the University of Louisiana-Monroe. ULM had held the top spot the first 2 days of competition and was the odds-on favorite to take the title home for the second year in a row.
But as is very common at every level of competitive bass fishing, the leaderboard was shaken up a little bit on the final day. When the dust settled, it was the University of Minnesota team of Austin Felix and Chris Burgan who ultimately claimed the title and punched their tickets to the 2014 Forest Wood Cup.
Here is a breakdown of how they were able to steadily climb the leaderboard to victory on South Carolina’s Lake Keowee.
Often the difference between finishing in the top spot and finding your name down the list is a little extra effort. In this event, the University of Minnesota gets the “A” for effort.
The FLW College Fishing National Championship provides the competing teams a single shortened day of official practice before the competition. However, there is also a mandatory meeting at 7:30 a.m. the day of the official practice. This meeting generally reduces practice time by an hour or more.
This chunk of time subtracted from the practice day didn’t stop Felix and Burgan from getting extra time out on the water. The night before practice began, Austin called the tournament director to see if it would be possible to go out on the lake before the meeting, and the answer was affirmative.
The Minnesota duo proceeded to launch in the wee hours of the morning (around 3 a.m.) to start graphing offshore structure that they believed would be the key to winning the event.
For the rest of the practice day they continued to mark brush piles on the main lake, which is where they figured the majority of Keowee’s largest spotted bass lived.
> Day 1: 5, 11-04
> Day 2: 5, 12-03
> Day 3: 5, 14-01
> Total = 14, 37-08
On day 1 of competition, the Minnestoa team worked shaky-heads and football jigs in brush piles in 20 feet of water. “We had pretty heavy winds, which seemed to cause the fish to move to shallower structure,” Felix said.
The team opened with an 11-04 limit of spotted bass, landing 7th place.
On day 2, Felix and Burgan had to work structure and brush piles in up to 25 feet of water, as the lighter wind pushed the fish deeper. They once again compiled a limit of spots on shaky-heads and jigs.
“We were able to lighten up on the weight of our tackle because of the dying wind, which seemed to work real well,” said Felix.
Their 12-pound bag pushed them into 3rd place going into the final day.
The final day brought the lightest winds of the event, which continued to push the fish to deeper water- down to 35 feet. The Minnesotans proceeded to catch a solid limit, but were unsure if it would be enough to fend off other teams.
“We figured that since there had been some big largemouth brought in before, that we could possibly be beat by a team that brings in a big kicker. So, we decided to spend the last hour looking for a big bite up shallow,” Felix said.
They were unable to find a kicker largemouth, but their quality 14-01 bag of spotted bass was enough to easily overtake West Virginia University and to claim the title with a 3-pound cushion.
Pipedreams Come True
When asked if either Felix or Burgan had thought about pursuing careers in the sport, they both said that they had thought about it, but it always seemed to be a “pipedream." That is, until now.
“I’ve been fishing regional tournaments for almost a decade now,” said Felix. “I’ve been working towards my goals of becoming a professional, and college fishing is a great stepping stone. I don’t think this win has really set in yet.”
“I never really thought about making fishing a career, but this win has changed my views on professional fishing a bit,” Burgan shared.
Both Felix and Burgan now move on to the Forest Wood Cup, with Felix fishing as a boater and Burgan as a non-boater in the championship.
Both displayed great enthusiasm for the Cup.
“It’s unbelievable. It still hasn’t sunk in yet that I get to fish the Cup,” said Felix.
“I’ve watched it (the Cup) on TV for many years, and now I get to fish with the big names that I have looked up to for all that time,” said an excited Burgan.
> Jig gear: 7'1" G. Loomis GLX 853C JWR rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel, 15- and 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbonline, 3/4-ounce Touchdown 2 football jig.
> Shaky-head gear: 7'1" G. Loomis NRX 852S rod, Shimano spinning reel, 15-pound PowerPro braided line, 10-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader, 3/16- or 5/16-ounce Outcast Shakedown jighead, Zoom Finesse Worm (green-pumpkin).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in their success – Teamwork. “Austin can flat out find the fish, and I can catch them when we are around them,” said Burgan. “We both caught about equal number of fish overall, so neither of us was carrying more weight than the other. Austin is also as good as any with electronics, which was a major factor with this event.”