Back Story: David Fritts, world-class pumpkin grower

David Fritts and his mother Frances at the family’s pumpkin market.

"The reason why Eufaula is my favorite tournament lake is because..." I never do find out why David Fritts thinks so highly of Lake Eufaula, as his cell phone rings for the umpteenth time and his attention is diverted. It's another customer, with money to spend. Fritts is talking business again. The typical angler's thoughts might turn to autumn fishing and the big transition of deep-water fish back toward the shallows, which is what's on my mind as we crank a creek ledge on Oklahoma's Grand Lake. We're trying out the reborn BB1 baitcaster that Lew's introduced at the 2012 ICAST show, but Fritts' focus wavers momentarily from bass and tackle. This time of year, he's in to pumpkins - big time. Back home in the Carolina Piedmont, the Fritts family is known far and wide for the quality and quantity of the pumpkins it grows: large ones and little ones in every shape, texture and hue. Pumpkins seemingly bubble out of the ground on the Fritts farm near Lexington, N.C., and most of them - upwards of 75,000 per year - will wind up on somebody's stoop at Halloween or in somebody's home at Thanksgiving as a decoration or in a pie. The 2012 harvest is in, and as he has done for the last 10 years or so, David Fritts will spend most of October dealing with buyers either in person or over the phone. When Fritts isn't available - such as when he's fishing a tournament - his nephew, Phillip Sink, takes care of things. "I started out just growing pumpkins just for the heck of it, but it gradually grew to the point where now we plant about 125 acres with pumpkins," says Fritts in between phone calls from customers. "The business seems to get a little larger every year and we employ a good many local school kids to help us get them in. It's gotten to be a pretty big deal." No surprise, Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins - the 5- to 15-pound size that have become a hallmark of Halloween - are the biggest sellers for David and his father, Tom, who operate David and Tom Fritts Produce Market in the community of Welcome, N.C. Besides Jack-o-Lanterns, they grow a few table-grade heirlooms, such as Seminole and Texas Sweet Potato. But the pumpkins that really get David fired up are the exotics that he sells for "display." The cream-colored Polar Bear variety is a popular display pumpkin."Orange is the main color everybody thinks about, but pumpkins come in all sorts of colors," adds Fritts. "We grow whites and pinks, blues and grays, red and black, red with black and green, white with orange stripes and so forth. These are some really good-looking pumpkins; they look like they're made of porcelain. It's like the colors were painted on. Most of these types of pumpkins are table pieces for Thanksgiving. The other day we sold a green pumpkin with orange polka dots for $75. Some people don't want the same thing as everybody else has got." Planting time begins in May and might extend into late July, depending on the variety of pumpkin and how long it takes to mature before the October harvest. Fritts plants seeds about 3 or 4 feet apart in rows that are 6 to 8 feet apart, so the vines have plenty of elbow room to ramble. The critical part of the growing season is after the flowers are fertilized by flying insects, and set fruit. The bulk of North Carolina's pumpkin crop is grown in the verdant mountain valleys of the Appalachians, and summers can be harsh in the Piedmont where Fritts' pumpkin patch is. He relies on an irrigation system to get his crop through the hottest and driest days of summer. But too much rain is also a threat, and even a few days of heavy fog can promote fruit rot. Either way, flowers or fruit can drop off the vine. If that happens, he has to start all over - if there's time enough. The David and Phillip Special, with its green-over-pinkish orange stripes, is a Fritts original.Despite the heat and drought that troubled much of the nation, this year's crop was good: Cinderellas, Fairytales, Valencianos and all the rest reached their full maturity at about the same time and kept the Fritts family busy cutting pumpkins from their vines and readying them for market. Beside the bulk buyers, David's mother Frances sells about $1,500 worth of pumpkins on a good weekday at their market, and from $5,000 to $7,000 worth on a fall weekend. Fritts has won just about every major angling accolade possible, including the Bassmaster Classic in 1993 and the Forrest Wood Cup in 1997. He's had his share of fame and glory and it takes a lot to impress him, but a patch full of ripening pumpkins will do it. "It's not something where you make a lot of money," says Fritts of his pumpkin farm. "It's more about seeing a small vine come out of the ground and watching it turn into something beautiful. It gives me a lot of satisfaction. That's the only way I can explain it."

Tags: blog  colin-moore 

/tips/2015-04-24-blog-east-vs-west

Blog: East vs. West

I’m not going to say the West is better than the East, or vice-versa. However, I am going to say that where fishing is concerned, there are some distinct differences between the two. The list is long and I’m sure that you can think of many additional differences, but here are a few things I have found that separates the two locales. For the purposes of this blog, let’s make the dividing line the Mississippi River although I think we should include Texas with the East. READ MORE »

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Blog: The Bucket List

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Top 10 Patterns from Lake Murray

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Gamecocks Win College Title

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Gamecocks Win National Title

As any good Palmetto State bass fisherman will tell you, home lake advantage only works if you’re consistent in your catches from day to day. Anthony Gagliardi proved it here on Lake Murray last summer in the Forrest Wood Cup, and the University of South Carolina proved it again in the FLW College Fishing National Championship that concluded Saturday. READ MORE »

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Lake Murray Midday Update Day 3

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College Championship Race Tightens

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Lake Murray Midday Update Day 2

The air temperature reached a high of 53 degrees here yesterday, which tied a record for the coolest high temperature for that date. Apparently, the short-lived cold snap also had a chilling effect on the fishing at Lake Murray this morning, as several competitors in the FLW College Fishing National Championship presented by Lowrance Insight Genesis College Cup reported meager results. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-16-liberty-leads-college-championship

Liberty Leads College Championship

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/news/2015-04-16-lake-murray-midday-update-day-1

Lake Murray Midday Update Day 1

With precipitation ranging from an incessant mist to torrential downpours sweeping the area throughout the morning, the odds favored a slow start to the FLW College Fishing National Championship being presented by the Lowrance Insight Genesis College Cup here on Lake Murray. As it turns out, however, the bass apparently liked the extra water and reacted accordingly. A number of the teams that found prime spawning areas for blueback herring in practice earlier this week returned on day one and were rewarded with limit catches of largemouths and spots by midmorning. Among them was the local favorite, the University of South Carolina, which reportedly had culled up to about 13 pounds by 11 a.m. Likewise, the Oregon State University was sitting on about 15 pounds and had culled five times. Tanner Masters and Wyatt Ryan of East Central University (of Oklahoma) caught their limit fishing seawalls and riprapped banks during the sporadic herring spawns that fired up as soon as boats reached their first fishing destinations. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-16-weather-woes-greet-college-anglers

Weather Woes Greet College Anglers

It was supposed to be a shallow-water bassfest, with largemouths and spots roaming Lake Murray’s shoreline to feast on spawning blueback herring. That still might happen as the FLW College Fishing National Championship plays out the next three days here, but the fishing is more likely to be ad lib than follow any script. The dreary, damp weather that settled over the region Wednesday during the last day of practice is the culprit. Not only did it hamper the efforts of contestants looking for the last bedding fish of the season, but also those depending on a consistent blueback herring bite to gin up the action. Still, the consensus of opinion is that one pattern or the other will prevail, and settle the question of college bragging rights for the next year as well as send the winning team to the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita in August. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-04-14-blog-back-in-the-groove

Blog: Back in the Groove

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/tips/2015-04-14-5-pivotal-moments-in-my-career

5 Pivotal Moments in my Career

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/news/2015-04-14-college-championship-preview

College Championship Preview

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/tips/2015-04-14-a-year-of-new-firsts

A Year of New Firsts

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/tips/2015-04-10-up-then-down-again

Up, Then Down Again

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/tips/2015-04-07-sweet-home-alabama

Sweet Home Alabama

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/tips/2015-04-02-when-everything-comes-together

When Everything Comes Together

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What Went Down at Kentucky Lake

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/news/2015-03-22-arkansas-anglers-win-college-open

Arkansas Anglers Win College Open

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