A late run gave Austin Felix a shot at winning the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, and although disappointed his fortunes fell short, the Minnesota angler is proud to accomplish his initial goal of the Elite Series Rookie of the Year.
“It’s really special to me because you get one shot at it. You don’t get a do-over,” Felix said. “It’s bittersweet to be that close to AOY, but I’ll get a shot at it next year.”
Felix, 36, said the realization of his accomplishments hit him when Clark Wendlandt, moments after securing the AOY at Lake Fork, approached him offering congratulations and telling him he would win one in the future. Felix might have won this year and swept the season awards if not for subpar first and last events.
“I knew I dug myself a bit of a hole,” he said of his 64th-place finish in the season opener on the St. Johns River, “but I’ve been thinking about ROY the whole season.”
After stubbing his toe, Felix’s 21st at Lake Eufaula offered some optimism, especially with the series heading north for smallmouth waters. Well-versed at clear water fishing from growing up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Felix figured correctly that he might make a move at the St. Lawrence River (25th), Lake Champlain (18th) and Lake St. Clair (13th). Those finishes jumped him up the AOY standings to 14th, but he said he didn’t display his trademark consistency.
“From Eufaula to St. Clair, those four events, I had one stellar day and one mediocre day, where I let it get away from me,” Felix said. “It seemed like the third day I’d catch them again, but I could never climb up into that Top 10. I thought I underperformed up north, not making any Top 10s.
“It wasn’t until Santee and Chick that I was able to put two good days together to have a good tournament. After the smallmouth tournaments, I was at the point to try not to give back all the points I gained up north. Fortunately, the fall fishing kind of played into my hand a lot more than I thought it would.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced B.A.S.S. to move the four remaining familiar venues to fall, previously unexplored territory for the Elites. Felix said he’s fished plenty in the fall, adding his state experiences all four seasons every year, albeit condensed into six months. Guntersville, Santee Cooper, Lake Chickamauga and Lake Fork were moved to times requiring the anglers to figure out the current conditions, not rely on past patterns. Felix began the run with a 40th on Guntersville, but that maintained his AOY position.
“What I was most afraid of was Santee Cooper. To be fortunate enough to find that group of offshore fish that allowed me to coast to a solid limit every day, it was really exciting,” said Felix, who competed for the title and ended up fourth.
That finish moved him to sixth in the AOY standings. He followed it with a fifth at Chick that put him second, just five points behind leader David Mullins going into the last event. While there was a great chance, it wasn’t to be on Fork, where Felix finished 68th and dropped to seventh overall, 29 points behind Wendlandt. He could only get a handful of bites each day in practice on the famed Texas fishery, “but it deteriorated over the tournament — I just couldn’t get it done,” he said.
What he did get done is put himself beside the names of ROYs like Drew Cook, Jake Whitaker, Drew Benton, Brandon Card and Hank Cherry. Felix totaled 651 points to top Kyle Welcher’s 639 and Buddy Gross’ 638. Taku Ito, who led the AOY standings for a short time at midseason, finished fourth with 606.