David Fritts surgery improves outlook

Each year, we’re eager to see which Bassmaster Elites have changed boat, tackle or clothing brands, upgraded electronics, or added some new gadgets. Safe to say, that one of the sport’s most accomplished pros, David Fritts will start his 34th professional season with the most important piece of equipment he’s ever owned.

It’s called a Watchman and, without overstating the situation, this device will, not only allow Fritts to continue fishing, it’ll help keep him above ground — a point to which anyone who knows this gentleman angler will heartily applaud.

While most were trimming trees, hanging lights and wrapping Christmas gifts, Fritts’ saw his December dominated by health concerns that culminated in a minimally invasive procedure with major impact.

The Genesis

Quick recap of what lead up to recent developments: Fritts was diagnosed with Covid in January of 2021 and sat out the season opener on the St. Johns River. He was able to fish the rest of the season and notch an 11th-place finish at the Tennessee River, but not before a spending six days in the hospital, two of them in the ER.

At one point, Fritts’ doctor nearly put him on a ventilator. His respiration improved, but he was diagnosed with long Covid — post-infection complications that can persist for several months or more. As of this writing, Fritts still has not recovered his sense of smell and his taste has only partially returned.

The most severe complication was Atrial fibrillation (A-fib). The Mayo Clinic describes A-fib as an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots in the heart. A-fib increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

“I guess I was lucky, because some people don’t survive that,” Fritts said. “After that, I had to get on blood thinners and (other medicine).”

While the A-fib reality clearly concerned him, Fritts admitted frustration with the physical limitations he believes the blood thinners had caused for nearly two years. When he wasn’t fishing, Fritts has long enjoyed working on his North Carolina farm, but fatigue was setting in much sooner than he was accustomed to.

“It was basically wearing me out,” he said. “I used to walk or jog for 2-3 miles and (my condition) ended that because my muscles hurt so bad.”

“Also, my tournament practices were not what they used to be, because by lunch time, I was pretty much toast.”

Game changer

Fritts’ condition took a turn in the right direction on December 14 when the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital surgically implanted the Watchman. Inserted through a catheter in the upper thigh, this device shaped like a parachute covers the left atrial appendage to block stroke-causing blood clots.

Fritts said his doctor will gradually wean him off blood thinners, with hopes that the Watchman will provide a long-term solution without the exhausting side effects.

“Do I want to take blood thinners the rest of my life and maybe not have a chance of regaining my energy, or do I want to do this?” Fritts said of his options. “There really wasn’t any choice.”

Significant impact

Fritts said he could immediately tell a difference in his energy level and stamina.

“Just by the way I feel right now, I think (the Watchman implant) worked,” Fritts said. “For Christmas, I walked up the steps at my house (unassisted) and I had (previously) needed to hold onto the side rail and it would wear me out. That’s a good sign for me.”

Notably, when I spoke with Fritts on December 27 around 3 p.m., he was painting a fence. He’s always loved working on his farm and this afternoon, he still had plenty of gas in the tank.

“Usually by this time of the day, I’m toast, but I still feel pretty good, so I have high expectations.” Fritts said.

Cautious optimism

Problems with the ticker are never light matters, but Fritts remains undaunted. In addition to his farming business, he’s also an accomplished baker. Cutting back on the cakes and pies is probably a good overall strategy, but self-fulfillment tends to facilitate recovery — kinda like the “mental game” anglers often reference.

“I made cookies again for Christmas; I’ll have to keep making them for my friends,” said Fritts, who brings homemade goodies to sponsors and friends at ICAST and other industry events. “You gotta live. Personally I can’t quit doing the things I enjoy.”

As for his tournament competition, the 1993 Bassmaster Classic winner and Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee said the Watchman has put the wind back in his sails.

“I think just having enough energy to compete is going to give me a lot better chance,” Fritts said. “I’m getting close to the end of my career, but I’m gonna be good for another year anyway and I’ll see how I feel.”

“I have some more crankbaits to make for Berkley. I still have a lot of things to accomplish in life. Right now, I feel like I’m going to be good.”