In His Own Words… David Fritts: ‘The Crankbait King’

Blessed with natural talent and a strong work ethic, David Fritts’ early interest in fishing was nurtured by an aunt on his mother’s side, Becky Sowers. After many outings centered on catfish, carp, and bream (sunfish), this North Carolina boy set the hook on his first bass and it changed his life. Growing up without a bass-fishing mentor, he put it on himself to learn. He loved to throw crankbaits, and taught himself to feel the bait vibrating as he wound it in – to feel it so completely that he can tell when a fish “turns” on the bait and swims up to it, before it bites.

Fritts has fished in professional tournaments for more than 20 years, piling up quite the track record. His combined winnings on B.A.S.S. and FLW tours is $2.3 million, with 59 top 10 finishes and 11 regular-season victories.

He’s one of only five pros to win both the FLW Championship and Bassmaster Classic (Davy Hite, Dion Hibdon, George Cochran, and Luke Clausen are the others). The list narrows even more when you take into account that he won Bassmaster Angler of the Year, and took Angler of the Year honors on the old Red Man tournament trail. Oh, and he won five Hungry Fisherman tournaments (big-time trail) including its Hall of Fame Classic, and he won a total of 10 Red Man events… four Red Man Regional Championships, two Red Man team tournament championships, two Golden Blend tournaments… let’s see… what else?

His ability to catch fish with crankbaits is at an otherworldly level. Known far and wide as The Crankbait King, we are excited to present David Fritts… in his own words.

 

MidWest Outdoors: Let’s go back to the roots of your love of the outdoors, where it all started for you… what are your earliest memories that led to your passion for fishing?

David Fritts: I know the first bass I ever caught was at a church outing down at High Rock Lake, which is the lake where several (Bassmaster) Classics have been on. Our Sunday school teacher bought us all a lure to fish with, and I had no clue what it was, and threw it out there and hooked this 5-pound bass, and when that happened, that was about the end of it.

This is when I was 13 or 14 years old, and I was done carp fishing, catfishing, bream fishing. Done with all of it except for the bass.

MWO: That’s quite a bass for your first one ever. You’ve caught ‘em bigger since, but tell us what it was like to catch that fish.

Fritts: When that fish jumped out of the water, and just with the fight that it had, it got me really excited. My aunt, Becky Sowers, was the one who took me fishing more than anybody. We always carp fished, and catfished, and I knew this bass was a lot different than anything I had ever caught. You could say that, from that moment on, I was hooked. All I wanted to do was bass fish.

There was a pole out there in the water, between the dock we were on and the neighbor’s dock. I threw that bait – it was a little plastic bait, and I asked my teacher, ‘how do I fish this?’ and the answer was, ‘I don’t know, just throw it out there and wind it in.’ I came by that pole and almost got hung up on it, and then all of a sudden this giant mouth comes out of the water. I didn’t know much of anything about bass at the time, and I thought, ‘man, this is where it’s at, right here.’

MWO: Were any of your other family members into fishing, even to a lesser degree?

Fritts: Well, my mom fished a little bit. All the fishing was on my mother’s side, believe it or not. The Fritts side of it, they worked hard on the farm and did this and that, but no fishing.

MWO: What was it about you and fishing? You took what must have been a pretty casual start, then fishing took over your life. What was it about fishing that pulled you in?

Fritts: I think the main thing was the bass itself. It was the excitement I felt from something that pulled probably twice as hard as the biggest thing you ever caught in your life and jumped out of the water and thrashed around, and almost pulled me in. Back then, I probably didn’t weigh 130 pounds. It was a totally new experience, I can tell you that.

I was used to watching a dough ball go up and down and the fish would jerk, and they pulled, too, but nothing like the excitement of what the bass did to me. It was in and out of the water, thrashing, and I saw into that great big mouth. Right away, I knew it was the ultimate fish to catch.

MWO: As you were growing up, did you ever dream of making a living in fishing? And if you did, what did it look like in your dreams, compared to what it actually turned out to be?

Fritts: At the start I was like everybody else, I had to learn fishing. I had to work on my techniques and skills. It took me five to seven years before I even caught a bass on something besides a crankbait. I knew I could tie a crankbait on there and throw it out and wind it back and sooner or later, I was going to catch one.

I could throw a worm out there, and every time I hit a rock I would jerk, because I didn’t know the feel, and I was young then and didn’t have an experienced bass fishermen to help me learn how to do it.

MWO: Tell us about those years you spent learning the craft of bass fishing. How did you teach yourself to catch bass?

Fritts: I bought a little aluminum boat when I was 16 years old. I worked for my dad in a tire shop – we re-treaded tires – and I saved up my money. I had an old car, it had a trailer hitch on it, so I bought this little ol’ boat with a 10-horsepower Johnson on it. This was maybe 1974, and I just had my (driver’s) license. Every chance I got, I’d drive down and put in at High Rock Lake, up in a creek somewhere so I didn’t have to deal with big water. I didn’t know how to handle big water, but I spent a lot of time in a place we call Sheats’ Bottom. That’s where I honed a lot of my skills.

I’ll never forget, there was an old bait, made a long time ago called a Deadly Dudley, it was like a buzzbait. I caught so many fish on that thing up in there. And then throwing Rebel Wee Rs and Mini Rs, and Bomber Model As, and I had some old Arbogast MudBugs, I had some Big Os, and that was pretty much my arsenal right there. I had no plastic with me, I mean, that was my arsenal. I did buy my first Lew’s reel in 1974, I paid $99 for it. I remember I had to work for over a month to save up enough money to buy that reel. That was probably the proudest moment of my life, as far as me moving forward in fishing. To get away from the basic equipment I’d been learning on and move up to a baitcaster that didn’t wear you out so much, that was a big deal. It was the first baitcasting reel I’d ever bought in my life, and I’ve been with Lew’s ever since. I have used a Lew’s reel every time I’ve gone fishing, since 1974.

MWO: Given your achievements at the highest level of competition, it’s amazing that you are almost exclusively self-taught. But did you have any mentors along the way who influenced your fishing style?

Fritts: I had some people, when I got out of high school that helped me hone my fishing. I got in a club, called the South Lexington Bassmasters, and this was when I was about 18 years old. We fished in these club tournaments, and they were always on High Rock Lake. Most of the time, I had to go with somebody, because all I had was that little 10-foot jon boat.

But I had a Lew’s reel and a Fenwick rod, and back then the best rod you could buy was a Fenwick Lunkerstik. Then I bought a Lew’s Speed Stick and another Lew’s reel and was really starting to move up. A guy in our club kind of took me under his wing; his name was John Wayne Leonard. He’s passed away on us, he’s been gone five or six years, but he was probably the best fisherman in our club. He liked to structure fish, he liked to fish away from the bank, and I’d never done that.

He showed me, with the old flashers and stuff, how to find those spots and fish ‘em. I really liked doing it, and it’s probably because of him that I developed my skills in that area. You couldn’t see what you were throwing at, but when you caught one fish you usually could catch four or five, because they hadn’t been fished for very much. I saw right quick that was what I wanted to do, was get away from the bank and fish. He was very instrumental in me learning how to do that.

MWO: Did he teach you about fishing tournaments, or mostly about fishing in general?

Fritts: Just fishing in general. You know, we were fishing in club tournaments. You could win $20 or whatever; everybody would put a couple dollars in and we’d go out there and fish. We had standings for the year, and the main thing was winning a trophy. It was a really big thing, and I actually ended up with a good collection of ‘em.

MWO: And we bet you have a room with a bunch of big trophies in it, too, right?

Fritts: Yeah, there’s a boat store called Angler’s Choice (in Lexington) and it has a David Fritts museum that has all my trophies in it, and all kinds of memorabilia.

MWO: So you have the FLW Championship, the Forrest Wood Cup, the Bassmaster Classic, and the Bassmaster Angler of the Year. It seems like an FLW Angler of the Year trophy would fit nicely into that arrangement. Are you content with everything you’ve accomplished in tournament fishing, or do you ever think about winning FLW Angler of the Year?

Fritts: Yeah, well, you always want to win whatever you can. I don’t know if you’re ever content. I mean, I’m content with what I’ve done, but you always want to keep doing it.

MWO: As you might know by now, there’s much more to our conversation with David Fritts, and you’ll find it in the Podcast section of midwestoutdoors.com. On the home page, look for the big button that says Podcast, click on it, and you’ll find the David Fritts interview.

He goes into detail on his crankbait fishing approach–you’ll hear secrets you can put to use on the water this season. In addition, you’ll hear about a close call with a lightning bolt that almost ended his career about eight years ago. And he talks, for the first time, about a new line of crankbaits he’s designing for Berkley. We’ll see you there…

David Fritts Timeline
1956:
David Fritts is born, in Lexington, N.C.

1993: Fritts wins the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Logan Martin in Alabama, with a 3-day catch of 48 pounds, 6 ounces. Key to this win? You guessed it: precision casting and presentation with crankbaits, targeting specific underwater objects.

1994: Wins Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.

1997: Wins Forrest Wood Cup, the FLW Championship, on Lake Ferguson near Greenville, Miss.