Minnesota outdoors scene loses longtime friend with the passing of Ralph Jon Fritz
One of the state’s best outdoors friends passed away on Dec. 6. Ralph Jon Fritz, 78, was well known as a sportscaster for WCCO television, a position he held for more than 40 years. But he was also an avid angler and hosted many outdoor special events as well as a regular segment on ‘CCO called, “Out ’N’ About with R.J. Fritz.”
I met Fritz in the late 1980s while covering the Holiday/Johnson crappie contests on Lake Minnetonka. He and Don Shelby would spend a good part of the morning on the microphones at Lord Fletcher’s entertaining the crowd milling around. I was covering the event for Outdoor News so I could hang with the celebrities and watch them keep the audience engaged as they added levity to their announcements and told humorous stories. They were pros and knew how to delight the crowd.
At one of the events in the early 1990s, Fritz said to me, “Hey Meister-Man, I have something to show you.” He handed me a few lures to examine. The packaging read “Fritzie’s Fish Stix.” I promised I would try them, and if they worked as well as “Fritzie” said they would, I’d find some place to promote them to the consumer masses.
The lures were a miniature version of the tried-and-true topwater lure called the Zara Spook. Fritzie’s Fish Stix did catch fish, but one drawback was their size created a situation where every fourth cast had the line wrapping around the lure. I bet I’ll find a few of these lures in some of the old tackle boxes I have in storage. It will be worth a look now.
When there was a Governor’s Bass Fishing Opener back in the early ’90s, Fritz would be there. He loved bass fishing. My recall on location might be off, but I think it was Forest Lake. Fritz was working hard digging largemouth bass out of the newly emerging cabbage with a spinnerbait, and he landed a big fish. At the weigh-in, it looked like he was going to earn a year’s worth of bragging rights when a women from a competing station, with just 10 minutes until the scales closed, weighed a fish that was just a couple ounces bigger.
I was standing next to Fritz when the fish was weighed, and he looked over to me and said with a smile, “Looks like I’m not going to make the Outdoor News after all.” We both chuckled, and he just shrugged it off. He had fun that day and that was all that mattered.
Poking fun at himself was a common theme for Fritzie’s adventures. Some of his shows documented his failures on the water. It was mostly in jest, though, because those who knew him also knew he was an accomplished angler. But that was Fritz, always able to find humor in every situation and pass on that joy to those he touched.
Fritz, who’d moved to Florida after ending his four-decade Twin Cities media career, had been fighting terminal stomach cancer for nearly three years.
We’ll miss ya Fritzie. Rest in peace.