UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Lake Wylie

Scouting for Smallies with Felix

Scouting for Smallies with Felix
Austin Felix

Over the years, a lot of anglers have established impressive records on Lake Champlain, but few have done it as quickly and authoritatively as Austin Felix.

Back in 2016, in his rookie season on Tour, Felix locked up a top 10 on Champlain with relative ease, smashing spawning smallmouths every day of the event. In 2018, he repeated the pattern in the Costa FLW Series kickoff and then cruised to the Northern Division Angler of the Year title.

Suffice to say, a lot of eyes will be on the Minnesota pro this week, not only because of his past Champlain success under similar conditions, but also because of his well-proven Northern prowess.

So, with an eye toward watching a smallmouth master at work, I was happy to hop in the boat to watch him start practice for the final FLW Tour event of the season.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Launching bright and early north of Plattsburgh, Felix drops the boat in near where he and a crew of other anglers are staying. Fresh from a quick stop en route on Lake Ontario, Felix is fully in smallmouth mode and already has a spread of tubes and drop-shot rigs on deck.

After a few minutes scanning in the marina as the sun rises, he stows the trolling motor and heads out to look for smallmouths.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Sliding along on the trolling motor with his hood up and his Costas on, Felix starts looking. It doesn’t take long for him to run into a smallmouth, which he promptly catches. It’s a pattern that will continue throughout the day, as Felix knows how re-catchable smallmouths are and how much fun they are to catch.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

After he tangles with another, I ask if he thinks he’ll largemouth fish at all in the tournament.

“No, not unless I have to,” says Felix. “I don’t like to do it, and I feel like I’m better off just looking for more than trying to get a big bite. It may make it harder to actually win though.”

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

After easing down the bank a bit more and spotting another bass or two, Felix makes a few actual casts. Oddly enough, alewives are schooling at the surface nearby, and though nothing is chasing them it’s too tempting of a sight to pass up.

“If this works it will blow my mind,” says Felix as he winds up.

Thankfully, for his mind, it doesn’t work.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

After catching another, Felix breaks down the beginning of his practice: “The light doesn’t penetrate well so early, so I don’t really think of the day as even started yet. I haven’t found any I’ll weigh-in, but I like what I’m seeing. There’re bass up, and they’re making love.”

With a little more time under his belt and the sun rising higher, Felix makes a move.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Pulling into a different bay, Felix gets right back to looking and catching. Here, he’s also checking some old waypoints from beds from years past. Because of the higher water, they’re deeper and harder to see, so he occasionally breaks out a bathyscope.

Felix acquired his smallmouth sight-fishing savvy back home in Minnesota, fishing spring tournaments on places such as Mille Lacs, Minnetonka and Green Lake. He says it’s more like hunting Easter eggs than fishing, and it’s one of his very favorite things to do.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Around 7:30 a.m., Felix catches his first 3-plus of the day. It’s a welcome sign, because though all the fish he’s caught so far have been hale and hearty, they haven’t really been tournament-class specimens.

 

Austin Felix

It’s 7:50 now, and the sun is almost fully up. Felix starts looking a bit faster, though the wind is starting to ripple the water just a little. He seems to have edged out of a sweet spot though. With another angler ahead of him, he decides to make another move.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

After a short move, Felix cranks up his generator. It’s a common tool for pros to get more trolling motor hours in practice for potential sight-fishing tournaments.

“Now I feel like I can troll a little faster,” says Felix. “It doesn’t really charge the batteries, but it keeps them from dropping if you leave it on.”

Unfortunately, it also provides the constant hammering of a combustion engine, and it isn’t a purr. According to Felix, a few sanity breaks are essential throughout the day.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Felix isn’t having any trouble finding beds, though the bigger fish have been a bit more elusive than he’d like. After a quick interruption for a license check from a game warden, Felix makes a short move to some more deep beds from years past. Poking around with the Flogger, he sees what look like beds, but they’re unfortunately empty.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

As he works, Felix begins to suspect that some of the beds aren’t truly empty; the fish are just deserting them before he can see them. It’s not ideal from a standpoint of finding easy fish, but the idea buoys his hopes for success with sight-fish.

“I’m not super excited so far,” says Felix of the morning. “I was hoping to find more better-quality ones at that last stop. But, I’ve got about 10 more miles of shoreline to cover, so there’s plenty of time.”

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Felix has a very particular method for covering ground as he trolls along looking for fish. Not putting the boat at any one depth, he zigzags in and out as he goes. He also proves himself an expert at all the nuances of the sight-fishing game. From using his boat to occasionally shield a potential bed from the wind to dipping down with a Flogger to check a deeper bed or hitting some pollen with a little spray, he’s pulling out all the stops with confidence and ease.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

After seeing a legitimately big one cruising, Felix adds a few smaller ones to the tally. However, he’s beginning to encroach on another angler and is spotting more empty beds. Thinking a move might be in order, we decide it’s time for me to go.

 

Austin Felix

Austin Felix

After heading back across a suddenly and surprisingly pretty choppy lake, Felix re-looks in the marina cove with the benefit of actual sunlight and then drops me off. After idling back out, he cranks up again and stays on the hunt. Though the morning may not have been the big smallmouth bonanza he was hoping more, it’s not nearly time to pull the plug on them.

Tags: jody-white  pre-tournament  2019-06-27-lake-champlain 

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