FRITTS BATTLING CAREER-THREATENING EYE AILMENT

Christmas was especially enjoyable for David Fritts this year, and it had nothing to do with presents.

Instead, it involved some precious improvement in his vision.

Although fishing fans were unaware of it, the former CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion and BASS Angler of the Year from North Carolina, who turns 49 on Dec. 29th, has been battling an eye ailment that threatens his long and illustrious career. Fortunately, in recent weeks, he's seen some welcome progress in his recovery.

The disorder first struck a week or so after he returned home from practice for the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Eufaula in October, and it forced him to pull out of the final two fall tournaments. "I was out in the field helping my dad pick pumpkins, and I reached down and saw three pumpkins where there was only one," Fritts said. "I had double and triple vision for a couple of months.

"It's been tough. I've had blurry and double and triple vision. I couldn't walk. I kept falling down. There was a month or so when I couldn't drive. I couldn't do anything.

"About two months ago, I didn't know if I'd be fishing anymore or not. That's how bad it was."

Frits consulted with five doctors before finding one that diagnosed his problem as a ligament on the side of his left eye that was causing his eyeball to twist and distorting his vision. Before resorting to surgery, the doctor prescribed a special pair of glasses.

"They got me some glasses with some prisms in them, and it seems to be straightening out some," he said. "I think it's getting a little bit better. I've fished a little bit in some ponds and stuff, but I haven't done much. Like I said, I've just gotten to where I can see in the last few weeks."

The doctor told Fritts that this malady usually occurs after taking a significant blow to the head.

"I got hit by lightning at the Elite 50 event in Paducah (in June)," he said. "It knocked me out cold. It knocked out everything in my boat.

"For the first time in my life, I crouched down behind the console of my boat - that's how bad the storm was. All I remember is there was heat running up my back. When I woke up, I was lying in the boat, and I had a cut on my face. I was dazed, but I felt OK. I never went to the hospital.

"The doctor said it could have come from that because that kind of stuff sometimes shows up later. The cut was on the left side of my face, which is the side that eye is on. But he doesn't know that it was the cause."

With his improving vision, Fritts is especially thankful this holiday season and anxious to start the CITGO Bassmaster Tour in January.

"I'm getting back to where I can see pretty well," he said.

BASS SATURDAY DEBUTS ON JAN. 1. Don't forget to start your New Year off right by tuning into BASS Saturday on ESPN2. The four-and-a-half hour block of programming begins at 7:00 a.m. ET and is anchored by BassCenter, a weekly news show dedicated to the world of bass fishing. BassCenter will profile anglers, uncover stories and address issues of interest to bass fishing enthusiasts. The weekly program will cover the news of the sport that week - from tournaments to new technology. The series will feature a wide variety of entertainment and information, including tournament analysis, bass fishing tips, angler profiles and human interest features.

BassCenter is SportsCenter for bass fishing!

Immediately following BassCenter at 7:30 a.m. ET will be "Loudmouth Bass," a weekly program loosely patterned after ESPN's popular "Pardon the Interruption." Each week hosts Jay Kumar and Mark Zona debate industry issues with each other and a guest.

At 9:30 a.m. ET, viewers will see the debut of "Bassmaster University: The Ultimate Tips and Techniques Show."

Tournament legends like Kevin VanDam, Davy Hite, George Cochran, Gerald Swindle, Greg Hackney and many more of the best bass fishermen in the world will share their knowledge. Rick Clunn anchors every show with insights into the "big picture" of bass fishing. Jerry McKinnis guides the curriculum, making sure that even the beginning angler can keep up.

CITGO VENEZUELAN ADVENTURE. To hear them tell it, the four top pros who were recently invited by CITGO to fish for peacock bass enjoyed an amazing trip. They included Michael Iaconelli, Gerald Swindle, Marty Stone and Greg Hackney.

"We had a great trip," Iaconelli said. "It never ceases to amaze me how hard those fish fight.
We caught a lot of fish and a lot of big fish. I think we got a real good show out of it. My biggest weighed 16 3/4, but Gerald and Greg both caught 20-pounders."

Stone chimed in: "Those fish whipped me. I landed one of every 15 I hooked."

DID YOU KNOW? The venerable Roland Martin won the first three BASS Angler of the Year titles ever awarded. He went on to win another six.

PRO BIRTHDAYS Kim Stricker of Michigan celebrated his 44th birthday on Dec. 27th. Former Classic champion David Fritts (49) and Arkansas' Mike McClelland share (37) Dec. 29th. Ohio pro Frank Scalish turns 44 on Jan. 3rd. Virginia's Chris Daves (33) and Robert Graham of North Carolina (44) share Jan. 6th as their birthday. Arkansas' Keith Green will blow out 43 candles two days later. Virginia pro Rick Morris will be 43 on Jan. 11.

IF I HADN'T BECOME A BASS PRO. Missouri Brian Snowden would be guiding full-time on Table Rock Lake "I also do some work for a company called Marine Grade Marketing in Nixa, Mo.," he said "They do film for outdoor television shows. I run camera boats and do things like that. It works out real nice because the owner is flexible and allows me to guide when I need to and fish tournaments."

THEY SAID IT. "We're starting to see a new era of fishermen who have been students of this sport from day one. Back when Larry Nixon and I started, we had other jobs, and we were part student and part something else. Now we're starting to see this wave of young fishermen who have never had any other jobs - any other focus besides fishing. Ultimately, that's what it takes in any professional sport - a total commitment from a very early age." Four-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation.  The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.