In professional bass fishing circles, versatility is commonly regarded as the ultimate virtue. The versatile angler is familiar with the full spectrum of lure styles and adept at executing a wide variety of presentations. Consequently, he can catch schooling bass on topwaters, jerk lunkers out of matted vegetation with a punch jig and fool finicky spawning fish into biting shaky head worms. Yet, while versatility is indeed commendable, deep truth lies in the old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Case in point: While there are plenty of great crankbait fishermen on the pro circuit, David Fritts is the one, the only crankbait master. By rejecting the doctrine of angling versatility and instead devoting his entire fishing career to immersing himself in what other pros probably consider the most arcane nuances of a lone lure category, Fritts has become the diving bait shogun, the Yoda of crankbait fishing. Consider yourself fortunate, grasshopper, for you are about to drink from the deep well of the master’s crankin’ wisdom.
6:40 a.m. We arrive at Lake R’s deserted launch ramp. Fritts, a longtime Ranger pro staff member, is between boats; I’ve arranged to borrow a Triton 21 TrX for our outing. (Bass Pro Shops owns both boat brands.) Fritts pulls a small tacklebag and three of his signature Lew’s Perfect Crank baitcasting rods from his truck; each rod is equipped with a Lew’s BB1 reel spooled with 12-pound Trilene fluorocarbon. “I fish crankbaits on braided line in tournaments, but I forgot to bring any braid with me for this article. With crankbaits, I want the least amount of line stretch possible so I can feel exactly what the lure is doing.” Fritts ties on three of his signature Berkley crankbaits: a lipless vibrating Warpig, a 5/8-ounce medium-diving Dredger 14.5 and a 1/3-ounce Bad Shad 7 shad mimic. What, only three rods!? Most pros start their Day on the Lake with a dozen or more! “Heck, three should be plenty,” Fritts says.
7:05 a.m. We launch the Triton. Fritts checks the lake temp: 52 degrees. “The water looks clear enough to fish a jerkbait. I brought a couple jerkbaits with me, but I’d rather crank.”
7 HOURS LEFT
7:11 a.m. Fritts makes a short run to Lake R’s dam, which is strewn with riprap. “Rock is a prime bass attractor late in the season. I haven’t determined yet whether or not this lake has any grass in it, but once the water cools and daylight diminishes, bass will usually vacate grass cover and will head for rock if it’s available.” The boat’s front graph is not working. Many pros would be apoplectic over this malfunction, but Fritts maintains his cool. “Hey, it is what it is. The console graph works fine, so maybe you can keep your eye on it and holler out any major depth changes?”
7:12 a.m. Fritts makes his first casts of the day to the dam with the 3/4-ounce Dredger 14.5 in the honey color pattern. I ask him about his reel preferences. “I’ve been with Lew’s forever. The BB1 is a slow-speed reel with a 5.1:1 retrieve ratio; it takes up 21 inches of line with each turn of the handle. You don’t want a fast-cranking reel this time of year; the water’s cold and the fish tend to be lethargic. The way the BB1 is designed, you can actually feel your lure vibrate through the reel, not just through the rod. I can fish without a graph, but if I can’t feel what my lure is doing down there, I’m lost.”
7:30 a.m. Fritts has cranked the Dredger halfway down the dam; he reverses directions and parallel cranks the plug over 22 feet of water.
7:38 a.m. Still crankin’ riprap. I ask Fritts whether he’s suffered rotator cuff tears, carpal tunnel syndrome or other injuries commonly associated with long-term casting and reeling. “I had to wear a brace on my left arm for a couple months several years back, but nothing beyond that. If I couldn’t crank, I’d probably quit fishing.”