By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
After the season that David Fritts had on the FLW Tour in 2016, few could've anticipated the strong start that he's gotten off to on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Perhaps Fritts himself did.
The 60-year-old North Carolinian said last winter, after accepting one of the newly created "legends" berths on the Elite circuit, that he felt like a change of scenery might benefit him. So far, it appears to have done wonders.
A year after placing no higher than 110th in six FLW derbies last year, Fritts has logged a 17th and two finishes in the 40s in the first three Elite events and sits at No. 23 in the Angler of the Year race. And keep this in mind: The past Classic and Forrest Wood Cup winner and former B.A.S.S. AOY has traditionally done his best work during the post-spawn phase, which isn't yet in full swing in a lot of places.
He could be on his way to qualifying for his first Classic since 2001.
"I really can't say there's one thing that's made all the difference this year," he said earlier this week while practicing for the Lake Chickamauga Southern Open, which gets under way today. "My attitude's been better and I've been a little more versatile, and everywhere we've been I've been able to find some fish. That always helps.
"I've been able to fish to my strengths a little bit and I've been pretty fortunate that I haven't had to contend with a lot of sight-fishing (scenarios). When they're all on the beds, I'm not going to do good – that's just the way it is and the way it's always been."
Mixing it Up
Fritts collected most of his many accolades in the sport by throwing crankbaits, and he's done a lot of that through the early part of the current season. However, some other techniques have played large roles, too.
"I've been a little more open-minded," he said. "Instead of sticking with one thing so much, I've changed up and used some other baits. If the crankbait isn't working, I find something else instead of just dying with it.
"I've caught some on a Carolina rig, some on a worm and some on a topwater, and even a couple on a ChatterBait. It kind of seems like old times where I'm picking up the right bait at the right time."
He's done most of his cranking with the Dredger series of baits that he recently designed for Berkley. The most effective has been the miniscule 8.5, which has yet to come to market.
"They've been biting the heck out of that little bait," he said. "It's saved me in two of the tournaments."
Still has the Will
Fritts, who's been a full-time pro angler since 1989 and a hardcore tournament participant for 15 years prior to that, said he had no serious thoughts of retirement after his miserable 2016 campaign.
"I'm not ready to quit yet," he said, "but you can get sort of burnt out when you've been doing this for as long as I have. When you've done something for almost your whole life, that happens.
"The last couple years I got frustrated because there were no tournaments, or maybe one a year, where I could fish to my strengths, and that made it sort of tough. It's been a little more equal over here – there's been some fish on beds, but I've been able to do other things."
Next up on the Elite schedule is Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi (April 27-30). He's had some success there, but it wasn't exactly recent – he posted a 6th-place finish in an FLW Tour event 20 years ago.
"That's sort of one of those deals where I could do real good, or maybe not," he said. "It's going to fish small, but I know the fish are going to be shallow. It shouldn't be a sight-fishing tournament, though; those fish should be done (with the spawn) there."
After that comes a stop at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas, and that one should fall right in his happy zone.
"That's one I'm really looking forward to, but it could be hard just because there's so much knowledge of that lake and there aren't any secrets. On the other hand, I feel like it'll be an opportunity to catch some post-spawners, and that's my favorite way to fish.
"We were almost there at Toledo Bend – there were a few fish that were post-spawn. Hopefully we're really going to get into that from here on out. I haven't exactly blistered the field, but we've got a few coming up that might be good."