While national championships have been few and far between at the University of Minnesota, students Austin Felix and Chris Burgan quietly brought home a title over the weekend.
The pair won the FLW College National Bass Fishing Championship on Saturday in Seneca, S.C., a first for the school, and a first for a northern school in a competition dominated by Southern anglers. Besides trophies, the pair won $30,000 worth of prizes for their team, including a new boat, motor and trailer.
“I was pretty shocked,’’ said Felix, 29, of Eden Prairie. “Usually all the national champions come out of the South, because they get to fish bass year-round.’’
He and Burgan, 21, of Rhinelander, Wis., also won a chance to compete this summer with professional anglers in the 2014 Forest Wood Cup in South Carolina, the world’s most prestigious bass tournament.
“That’s the equivalent of someone on the U of M golf team getting invited to the Masters golf tournament,’’ Felix said.
Said Burgan of their win: “This is huge. It’s as big as it gets.’’
For both, fishing has been a lifelong passion. “I’ve had a rod in my hand since I could hold one,’’ Burgan said. Felix, who will graduate this summer in business, has long aspired to be a pro angler, and Burgan, a junior studying communications and psychology, said the win has him thinking about that, too.
That they won was even more amazing considering Felix has long-term Lyme disease and, after the 19-hour drive to South Carolina, he ended up in a hospital emergency room after having a bad reaction to new medication. It took two days to recover.
The key to their win: On Day 3, while most of the anglers fished shallow waters, Felix and Burgan fished deep, in 25 to 35 feet of water. The team’s three-day catch totaled 37 pounds, 8 ounces — 3 pounds more than the runners-up.
This is the fifth year of the FLW college national championship. The event will be televised by NBC Sports Network on May 31.