Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn., finished seventh in the 2019 Bassmaster Eastern Opens AOY standings, barely missing his bid for the Elite Series. However, because two anglers ahead of him were already Elite Series pros, he received an invite to join the Elites.
Despite competing on the FLW Tour for four years and sacking nearly $300,000 in winnings, it was an offer Felix couldn’t refuse.
“When you’re fortunate enough to qualify for the Elites, I don’t see how you can possibly turn down the opportunity,” Felix said. “It might take you another 10 years to qualify. You can’t have one bad day fishing the Opens and still make it.”
The recent upheaval in the professional fishing industry also figured into Felix’s decision.
“I felt that B.A.S.S. is safest place to be,“ Felix said. “No mater what happens, B.A.S.S. will stay strong. The Elite Series is the pinnacle of bass fishing. I’ve always felt that way.”
Felix’s mother and father, Dennis and Susan, introduced him to fishing at a young age. They would often vacation at lakes in northern Minnesota. Those early outings consisted of back-trolling for crappie and walleye from a 14-foot aluminum V hull powered by a 15 hp Johnson.
It wasn’t until Felix was in his teens that he learned about bass tournaments. This came about thanks to Mike Mitchner, who is a client of Felix’s father, who is an attorney. Mitchner introduced Felix’s father to bass fishing and they began fishing tournaments together, often at Lake Minnetonka and on the Upper Mississippi.
“My first experiences with bass fishing were practicing with Mike for the tournaments that he and my dad were fishing,” Felix said. “I was probably 14 when I fished my first tournament. Mike and I teamed up for a Wednesday night derby.”
When Felix’s father bought his own bass boat, they began fishing tournaments together. Throughout high school, Felix and his father competed in 15 to 20 tournaments a year.
After graduating from high school, Felix worked at Gander Mountain and as a tire technician and fished and hunted at every opportunity. After three years or so, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he earned a degree in entrepreneurship and sustainability.
“I designed my own major, knowing I was going to fish professionally,” Felix said. “My courses included marketing, public speaking and entrepreneurship.”
While in college, Felix competed on the university’s bass fishing team. He and his partner, Chris Burgan, won the FLW National Championship in 2014 at Lake Keowee, South Carolina. That same year they also qualified to fish the Bassmaster Collegiate Championship at Lake Chatuge, which straddles the Georgia/North Carolina border. Collegiate tournaments allowed Felix to sample bass waters across the country.
“College fishing taught me that I had the ability to compete anywhere,” Felix said. “I was under the impression that you had to have local knowledge to compete. I learned that if you have a solid basic understanding of bass and how to catch them, you don’t have to know every secret hole on a lake to be successful.”
After graduating from college, Felix competed in the 2015 Bassmaster Northern Opens. After the first two events, he was poised to qualify for the Elite Series. He finished in 68th place at the third and final event of the series on Lake Erie out of Sandusky Bay, Ohio, and fell short. He stumbled in similar fashion during the final event of the 2016 Northern Opens.
In 2015 he was fortunate to get into the FLW Tour by being a Ranger boat owner and signing up early. From then until now he has competed on that tour along with a sprinkling of Bassmaster Opens and Costa events. He was the 2019 AOY in the northern division of the Costa series.
“I still fish local tournaments back home with my dad as much as I can,” Felix said. “He’s retired now and I’m fortunate enough to get back home for three or four events a year.”
Felix’s goal is to fish for a living and prove that he can compete and succeed at the highest level.
“The top of the mountain is the Elite Series,” Felix said. “I’m nervous about it, but it’s exciting at the same time.”
Felix’s sponsors include Mercury Marine, Lowrance, TH Marine, 13 Fishing, All-Terrain Tackle, Siteline Outdoors and G2 Gemini.