Sometimes it’s not a matter of the amount you win as much as when you win it and how. In many cases it may be better to be exceptional in just a few events than very good in all of them.
If I had to guess, I’d say that there’s about a 90% chance that this week’s Elite Series event on the Potomac will be won in less than 5 feet of water, and a 95% chance that it’ll be won shallower than 10 feet. The person who prevents me from betting my house on those odds (other than my wife) is David Fritts.
Younger fishing fans might not remember it, but during the 1990s Fritts went on multiple ridiculously hot streaks and his wins included both a Bassmaster Classic trophy (1993) and the FLW Championship (1997). He also finished 2nd on the Potomac in 1990, 3rd in 1992, 3rd in 1993, 2nd in 1996, 10th in 1997 and 2nd in 1999 in B.A.S.S. competition on the Potomac.
There are a handful of anglers who’ve had multiple great finishes on the Potomac over the years, but his excellence stands out because he bucks the norm. While most others searched for shallow grass, boat docks and laydowns, Fritts gets a virtual case of hives if the depthfinder reads in single digits. It’s not that he can’t fish shallow. It’s that he prefers not to.
That hit home for me in 2007, when I was assigned by FLW to ride with him during a day of practice prior to that year’s Tour event. I firmly believed that it would be won shallow – and indeed it was, by North Carolina’s Chris Baumgardner – but in our day on the water Fritts rarely fished in what I considered to be likely places. In fact, he barely fished at all. Instead, he idled around a lot, often 100 or 200 yards from any place where I’d ever seen anyone else look. It was as if he’d woken up, forgotten where he was, and assumed that it was Kentucky Lake instead of the Potomac.
He was looking for one isolated rock or log or an old sunken barge that had likely never been fished before. He knew that he had enough backup areas to catch some fish, but he also knew that he was most likely to win if he spent his available time off the beaten path. Nine years later, I still haven’t spent a day out there idling away from it all, but that day completely opened my eyes to a different approach to tournament fishing – looking to win by identifying what you do better than anyone else and then riding it until you have no choice but to get off the horse.
Whoever wins this week is going to have to earn it, because the river is healthy and full of fish. The winner will have my respect no matter what, but I’ll be a little more excited about the whole deal if he does something outside the ordinary. We always say that the Elites are great at showing the locals a new side to their home waters – I want it to happen here.
Yesterday my editor Heidi Roth told me that the most important thing in life is finding “your tribe” – not necessarily a group of people who you cling to like white on rice to the exclusion of everyone else, but rather a community of like-minded folks with common interests who help you to become a better version of you. For some people, that can mean a specific geographic area, or an ethnic group or those with a similar interest. For most of us bass angers, it’s much deeper than that.
Entry into the fishing “tribe” is hardly an exclusive rite. I have bass fishing friends from every walk of life, both genders, from all over the world. Lots of them couldn’t stand to breathe the same air as one another if they didn’t have mutual love of the Senko or crankbaits or smallmouths. What we don’t realize when we enter the cult, however, is that we drag others along with us.
If you live with a member of one of these groups, even if you try to put up complete blinders, in most cases you’ll pick up some information by osmosis. For example, my sister-in- law the non-sports fan raised a hockey-addicted son and she can now identify most penalties before the refs and knows all sorts of ice-based minutiae. Her sister – my wife – didn’t resist the fish game, but she had no idea how enmeshed in it she’d become.
We got married in 2005. The 2006 Classic, held six months later, was the first professional tournament she attended, but it was mostly because one of her best friends was going to meet us in Orlando. She wasn’t there for the tournament itself. The 2006 Elite Series Capitol Clash on the Potomac (won by Kelly Jordon) was the first big event she visited with no other ulterior motive. Now, exactly a decade later, she’s been to dozens, everything from Opens to Elites to FLWs to Classics. It’s gotten to the point where she’s not merely there as my appendage – instead, she has her own “tribe” of friends who ask for her by name.