In the mid-1990s, David Fritts was revered throughout central North Carolina as the King of the Yadkin. He was known nationally as the crankbait guru who won the 1993 Bassmaster Classic on Logan Martin Lake in Alabama, and the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title the following year.
Naturally, when B.A.S.S. scheduled back-to-back Classics in 1994 and ’95 on High Rock Lake — Fritts’ home waters on the Yadkin River — odds-makers figured it was a sure bet the hometown favorite would walk away with the top prize, and it was even more assured he’d use a crankbait.
They were half right. Fritts used crankbaits, of course. But he managed only 21st in 1994. He redeemed himself somewhat the following year when he finished fifth.
The home-state jinx was still in effect at that time. For the first 35 world championships, no one would win a Classic in his home state — much less on his home lake — and Fritts would be no exception.
But away from the Tar Heel State, Fritts was a force.
In Classic competition, Fritts fared much better on Logan Martin, winning in 1993, and then finishing third the next time around, in 1997. That same year, he won the Forrest Wood Cup, becoming one of the few anglers ever to capture both titles.
After two decades of Bassmaster competition, Fritts left B.A.S.S. and moved to the other tour in 2006. There he amassed $1.3 million in earnings, won six events and qualified for 11 Cups.
Fritts used a Legends Exemption (awarded to past Classic champions and Angler of the Year winners) to join the Elite Series in 2017.
Now 62, he’s still a force. Fritts fans rejoiced when he led the first round of the 2018 Berkley Bassmaster Elite at Lake Oahe presented by Abu Garcia.
“I had the opportunity and let it get away,” said Fritts, who added that he lost three giant smallmouth that would have helped him retain the lead longer. “I don’t feel good about dragging a drop shot around.”
No, Fritts is much more comfortable cranking.
When he emerged on the bass scene in the late 1980s, he was known as one of the most innovative crankbait anglers since Fred Young. He won thousands by adding lead to Bagley and Poe’s crankbaits to make the wooden baits suspend when paused.
He’s still a creative genius in crankbait design. Instead of using a whittling knife and electric drill, though, he’s using 3D printers at Berkley facilities to create some of the hottest diving baits on the market.
He has also emerged as a distance-casting coach, teaching everyone from kids to experienced tournament anglers to add yards to their casts.
“I run a casting competition at Lew’s promotions where we challenge people to see how far they can cast,” he explained. “They put a Lew’s reel on my cranking rod and throw a 3/4-ounce weight. People are casting 80 yards or more with that rig.”
It’s all in the wrist, he noted. “If a baseball player comes up to cast — especially a pitcher — he’ll win. It’s not the energy, it’s how fast you move your arm.”
Long casts are an integral part of deep cranking, so it’s natural that Fritts would master that part of the game.
He applied his crankbait and casting expertise to lead the USA Bass team to a gold medal finish in the 2018 World Championship, an international bass fishing competition held on Lake Cuchillo, Mexico.
With no experience on the lake and no GPS or contour maps to guide him, Fritts’ instincts took over.
“It was just a matter of looking across the lake and figuring out where to find the fish,” he explained. “We used Dredger 20.5 and 25.5 crankbaits, and we nearly doubled the Mexican team’s weight!”
Outside of that victory, Fritts hasn’t won in a while, but he’s still much in demand for seminars and public appearances.
“I’m busier than I’ve ever been working with sponsors and doing promotions,” he said. He attributes his popularity in large part to his status as an Elite Series angler.
“This sport is having some growing pains right now, but it’s growing,” he said. “It’s as good as I’ve ever seen it.
“There are a lot of positive things going on. Writers are calling me up and writing about me. I’m getting more attention. I’m really proud of B.A.S.S. and the direction it’s going.”
All that attention is inspiring him to fish smarter and harder.
“I might not have the stamina I used to have,” said Fritts, “but I can still catch ’em. I feel really good about going back to Lake Lanier this February. “I’ve won there in the past and had a top 5 with B.A.S.S. that time of year.
“I had the opportunity to win last year [at Oahe] and let it get away. Maybe it’ll happen this year. Who knows?”