In 2005 – the last time North Carolina angler David Fritts was a regular competitor on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail – George W. Bush was still in the White House.
Barack Obama was just beginning his term as a senator in Illinois, and Donald Trump was in his third year of telling people, “You’re fired” on The Apprentice.
We live in a very different world now – and Fritts knows the world of bass fishing has experienced many changes as well.
But as he prepares to join the Bassmaster Elite Series this year, the 1993 GEICO Bassmaster Classic champion and 1994 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year still believes he can compete.
“Things have changed so much,” said Fritts, who accepted one of two Legends exemptions to make this year’s 111-angler Elite Series field. “I used to feel like I was better than most people at reading a flasher and finding fish out away from the bank. But with the equipment we have available to us now, we’re all equal out there.”
Fritts said that expanded deepwater knowledge has been perhaps the biggest change to the sport since he’s been away from B.A.S.S.
“It used to be there were 12 to 15 guys that you really had to worry about beating you,” he said. “But now the field is so competitive from top to bottom anybody can win a given event.”
Fritts’ career with B.A.S.S. began back in 1986 when he finished 57th in the Georgia Invitational on West Point Lake. Since then, he’s fished 163 tournaments with B.A.S.S., including six Classic appearances. He has five total victories and 40 career Top 10 finishes.
He fished as a regular on the Bassmaster Top 100, Bassmaster Top 150 and Bassmaster Tour – circuits that were all considered the highest level of professional bass fishing when he was part of their field.
He also fished the FLW circuit during his glory days with B.A.S.S., winning the 1997 Forrest Wood Cup, and is still one of only a handful of anglers to win both the Classic and the Cup.
When B.A.S.S. made the switch to the Elite Series format in 2006, Fritts elected to fish primarily with FLW. But he says it was regular trips to the Classic that gave him the itch to fish with B.A.S.S. once again.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Fritts, who is widely considered one of the top crankbait fishermen in the world. “I go to the Classic and work for my sponsors every year – and every time you do that, it just makes your mouth water.
“That’s the best show in fishing with all of the people who show up, and it just lit a fire under me every time I went.”
Fritts’ most recent action in a major professional tournament was last year on the FLW Tour, where he fished a half-dozen events and struggled to a 143rd-place finish in the final Angler of the Year standings. But as recently as 2013, the now-60-year-old angler placed 36th in the FLW standings and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup.
He hasn’t taken part in a B.A.S.S. event since 2013, when he finished 81st and 50th in a pair of Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Opens. But now that he’s focusing primarily on B.A.S.S., he wants to prove he can hang tough with a field that seems to grow more competitive each year.
“These last few weeks, I’ve started feeling pressure again because I want to do well – but that’s a good thing. I want to get those juices flowing.”
The Legends exemptions were offered to icons of the sport like former AOY and Classic winners. The second exemption went to Mississippi angler Paul Elias, the 1982 Classic champion.
Besides trying to win tournaments, vying for AOY points and trying to earn his seventh Classic appearance, Fritts will be spreading the word about the new line of hard baits he designed for Berkley. The collection now includes lipless baits (Warpig), square bills (Pitbull), jerkbaits (Cutter), deep-divers (Dredger) and even a few prototypes that only Fritts will have access to this year.
“I’m gonna have some deep baits that are not coming out this year, even though we have got them all but ready,” Fritts said. “I’ve got a really small bait for up north that I’m really excited about. It’s a 2-inch bait that will run close to 13 feet deep. That’s 5 feet deeper than fish have ever seen a bait that size.”
“It’s really been something to me to have the technology that Berkley has to test things in the making.”
So anytime the crankbait bite is on, it won’t be shocking to see Fritts’ name near the top of the standings.
“Anytime I can wind a little bit, I feel like I have a chance,” he said. “It’s when I’ve had to jig a bait up and down or do something totally different that I’ve struggled a little bit. But I’ve learned some new things, and I feel like I’m learning something new every day.
“I’m ready to fish.”