Fritts has home-lake advantage

OUTDOORS

July 24, 1994|By PETER BAKER

If the World Series were played only in the ballpark of the team with the best record, would the home-field advantage figure in the outcome? Probably, unless the home team were the Chicago Cubs, who earlier this season couldn't win at home for love or money.

If the top bass fishing tournament in the world were fished on the home lake of the season's top angler, could the home-field advantage work there as well?

This week, when the BASS Masters Classic is held at High Rock Lake in North Carolina, bass fishing fans will find out.

High Rock Lake is where B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year David Fritts caught his first bass while dunking worms from the bank in front of a home his grandmother owned along the lake. It also is the site of numerous local tournament victories for Fritts, a 15,750-acre impoundment he knows well, from low water to high water.

That this year's Classic is being fished near Fritts' home in Lexington, N.C., is coincidental. That Fritts, 37, will be there to fish it is, pure and simple, the result of hard work.

Two years ago, Fritts was on the verge of quitting the pro tour. Driving from tournament site to tournament site was keeping him away from his wife and two young daughters. And after a very successful tour of local and regional tournaments, he was unsure whether he could compete and earn a living at the national level.

After failing for the fourth successive year to qualify for the Classic in 1992, Fritts took the summer off to think about his future and "didn't hardly fish at all."

But by the start of the 1993 season, Fritts was back with a new attitude. By the end of the 1993 season, he had qualified for his first Classic, which he won last summer on Lake Logan Martin in Alabama.

Since, Fritts has made the Eveready rabbit seem inconsistent.

This past season, Fritts won two tournaments, finished in the top three in four others and won the Angler of the Year award with a 61-plus pound margin over runner-up Shaw Grigsby.

And in the year after winning the Classic, when many winners waffle under the pressure of sponsors and public appearances and use the bye entry awarded to winners for the next year, Fritts averaged more than 43 pounds per tournament.

But Fritts is well aware that the Classic is the Super Bowl of bass fishing and that even with his wealth of local knowledge, High Rock Lake and the tournament field present a formidable challenge.

"This will be a strategy tournament," Fritts said recently. "Making the right moves at the right time will be crucial. The guy with the game plan will have the advantage here."

And virtually every angler among the 40 who have qualified will have a plan for Thursday, Friday and Saturday at High Rock.

Denny Brauer. Tommy Biffle. Rick Clunn. George Cochran. Larry Nixon. Guido Hibdon. Jay Yelas. Any or all of them could finish ahead of Fritts -- especially if the lake is high or muddy.

"High or muddy water will really equalize the game," Fritts said, "because it scatters the fish."

High water also will move bass closer to docks and shoreline cover, where topwater fishermen and those flippin' and pitching could have an advantage.

Fritts' strong point is acknowledged to be with crankbaits, diving lures that work well when fish are in eight to 10 feet of water and holding near submerged tree stumps, brush piles and other structure.

Fritts would like the water levels low to keep the bass away from the shorelines and closer to areas he has fished before and others might still have to find.

But lake level has been up all summer, and rains late last week probably will ensure that the level stays up.

"Fish here are real timely. You have to blitz the fish at the right time," Fritts said. "I've won tons of tournaments on this lake in 10 minutes -- sometimes the last 10 minutes.

"I've fished an area and not gotten any bites and left it and come back, and left it and come back, and on, maybe, the fifth time they are there."

With the level up and the water dirty, persistence probably will pay off. And Fritts has been persistent all season.

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