U of M wins 2014 FLW College Fishing National Championship

Congratulations are in order to Denny Super 30 angler Austin Felix, who along with Chris Burgan, represented the University of Minnesota at the 2014 FLW College Fishing National Championship and came out victorious. They will get a chance to fish as pros in the Forest Lake Wood Cup in August for the $500,000.00 first prize (in a new ranger boat as well as a new Chevrolet pickup to use in the tournament).

08.Mar.2014 by Gary Mortenson

SENECA, S.C. – Throughout the first two days of competition at the 2014 FLW College Fishing National Championship, the University of Louisiana-Monroe team of Brian Eaton and Nick LaDart dominated nearly all of the headlines. And rightfully so. As the defending national champions, all eyes were on ULM to see if the team could pull off back-to-back titles and equal the powerhouse run of the University of Florida – who captured national championship titles in 2009 and 2010.

However, while ULM found itself atop the leadearboard on days one and two and seemed poised to sweep the most coveted trophy in all of college fishing two years running, a plucky little team from the University of Minnesota had other plans. Flying under the radar for a good portion of the tournament, U of MN teammates Austin Felix and Chris Burgan carefully plotted their strategy. After quickly analyzing the conditions – which were frigid, windy and downright nasty over the first two days of competition – Burgan and Felix opted to abandon their initial game plan and let the weather dictate their strategy.

After the first day of tournament action, the U of MN team found itself in seventh. By the end of day two, the team had crept up the leaderboard into third place overall. Then, when the sun appeared and the conditions finally turned around on the final day of competition, the Golden Gophers pounced, hauling in a whopping 14-pound catch and easily cruising to victory by a margin of more than 3 pounds.

Not surprisingly, the team couldn’t have been happier with the results.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Burgan, whose team walked away with a first-place prize package totaling $30,000, which included a brand new, fully rigged Ranger Z117, a tournament title as well as an automatic berth into the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup – the most lucrative and prestigious bass-fishing championship in the world. “When I stuck those two fish right in a row earlier today I thought, ‘If we could just catch a couple more, then we had a really good chance to put it all together.’ To win is just unbelievable. My mom is probably going crazy right now.”

Amazingly enough, the Gophers trip to the national championship was almost over before it even began.

“I’ve been diagnosed with long-term Lyme’s Disease and when we got here on Sunday morning I think my body really started wearing down,” said Felix, of the long and grueling drive from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. “I had some new meds and had a horrible reaction Sunday night. I wound up going to the ER and had to get a bunch of steroids. I was just lucky that I had a patient partner (Burgan) because we wound up having to stay in the hotel room for two whole days while I recovered. Throw in the fact that we hadn’t fished all winter and it’s just amazing that we’re here right now.”

However, it’s just as clear that the University of Minnesota team earned every ounce. After realizing the weather wasn’t going to be as conducive for largemouth fishing as they’d hoped over the first two days, the team decided to head to deeper waters and target spotted bass in hopes of landing a solid limit. The goal was to simply maintain their position near the top of the leaderboard and wait for the weather to shift before making their big move. And it worked to near perfection.

“The day started off great today,” said Burgan, whose team targeted its quarry throughout most of the tournament with a combination of Shaky Heads and Roller jigs in 30 to 40 feet of water, keying on main-lake humps and points. “We had three fish in the first hour. But then the bite turned off and that’s when I really started freaking out.”

However, later in the day, as the sun warmed up Lake Keowee, the duo returned to their prime fishing area and found some more success.

“We ran back to that same spot in the afternoon and stuck our two biggest fish,” said Felix. “And that’s when it really turned around for us.”

By the time final weigh-in had concluded, the team had amassed a healthy 37-pound, 8-ounce, three-day catch which was more than 3 pounds greater than their next closest competitor. And for their efforts, the team now gets an opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to compete in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.

“To get a chance to fish against the fishermen I’ve looked up to my whole life is incredible,” said Burgan, who will head to this year’s Forrest Wood Cup as a co-angler.

Burgan’s partner was equally ecstatic to have an opportunity to fish in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup.

“It’s one of those pipe-dream deals for me where you really get to test your mettle against the very best in this sport,” said Felix, who will be competing in the Forrest Wood Cup as a pro with a chance to take home an additional $500,000 in prize money. Felix will also get to fish out of a fully rigged Ranger boat wrapped in Golden Gopher team colors. “I’m really excited. I don’t know if we’ll be ready or not, but we’re going to give them hell.”

Felix, who has had to overcome so much just to get to this point, hopes that his national championship title is just one more stepping stone in both life and career.

“This week was just a fantastic week. All the teams are awesome and it really is a great group of guys to compete against,” he said. “My goal is to go pro one day. It might never become a reality, but this was a great first step.”

And nobody can argue with that.

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