Here’s a big fish story that has its origins in the year 1923.
The recounting of it begins with a visit to a house in San Antonio in 1974, to repair a ringer on a wall telephone.
Ken Zifer was assigned by Florida Telephone Company, at that time, to maintain the San Antonio 588 exchange.
“When I left his house to put my hand tools back in the truck, Mr. Walter Friebel followed me outside,” recalls Zifer, who now lives in Cleveland, Tennessee.
“Being an avid fisherman all my life and associated with Great Bass Fisherman, I asked him if he was doing any fishing in this neck of the woods,” said Zifer, who was 27 at the time that he made the telephone repair.
Friebel lived across the street from the San Antonio City Park and the St. Anthony Catholic School, so Zifer knew the house was not far from Clear Lake, in neighboring St. Leo.
Friebel told Zifer that he had not been fishing for quite a long time.
Then he told Zifer: “I (once) was paddling the boat when my brother caught the World Record Bass.”
Zifer asked: “Would you mind telling me about it?”
And that begins a look at a relatively unknown chapter in Pasco County history.
Born in Germany in 1893, Friebel’s brother, Frederick Joseph “Fritz” Friebel, had used only one fishing rod and reel, and he did not let Walter fish that day.
Fritz Friebel was a traveling salesman.
Francis Finn was 75 when he told the St. Petersburg Times in a 2005 story that his uncle Fritz was a generous man who would bring roller skates, baseball gloves, bats and balls for the kids to play with during the Great Depression.
Fritz Friebel was an avid angler, too, who lugged his tackle along with him, as he made his rounds across Florida, selling hardware.
Sources say he went fishing with a couple of friends at Big Fish Lake in 1923.
Online records with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) indicate his famous fish catch happened on a Saturday, May 19, 1923.
That wasn’t the way the fisherman recalled it, in a story published on Oct. 12, 1952, in The Tampa Tribune.
In that account, he said: “It was a Sunday morning when I should have been in church, and I had to call a grocer to open his store to get the fish weighed.”
Fritz Friebel had landed a 20-pound, 2-ounce largemouth black bass that measured 31 inches long with a 27-inch girth.
According to Ken Duke’s story for ESPN Sports on Aug. 7, 2009, Fritz Friebel used a Creek Chub No. 700 Straight Pike Minnow “to catch the giant fish.”
Five years later he was featured in a rod and reel catalog under the heading: “The Black Bass Record has been Broken, Not Cracked or Bent, but Crushed, Torn Apart and Split Wide Open.”
The catalog added this: “Gentlemen anglers all! Please leap to your feet and throw your hats into the air. Rah, Rah! To Mr. Friebel and his black bass!”
Onlookers in 1923 accused Fritz Friebel of cheating by adding pounds with lead sinkers in his fish.
But, the fisherman debunked that assertion.
“Friebel pulled out his pocketknife,” Duke writes, “slit the fish’s belly open and suggested that they reach inside to find out.”
Fritz Friebel was a no-nonsense angler.
As his daughter explained to ESPN Sports, “Daddy didn’t own a boat. He wore the worst-looking clothes because he often waded into water up to his armpits while fishing.”
After he made the catch, the big bass was put in a block of ice at the Knights hardware store for people to come by to see it.
According to the FWC’s website, Fritz Friebel’s catch in Pasco County “…was weighed on a postal scale and witnessed, but a (state) biologist did not document it at the time to establish an official record.”
In other words, it is the largest unofficial big bass landed in Florida.
ESPN Sports says it registers as the 11th largest largemouth black bass ever caught in the world.
For years, a wooden sign commemorating Fritz Friebel’s accomplishment has stood in San Antonio’s downtown park.
Most conservation-minded anglers release large fish because of their future spawning potential.
Not Fritz Friebel: He treated his family to a big fish dinner.
George W. Perry, 1932, Lake Montgomery, Georgia, 22 pounds, 4 ounces
FLORIDA RECORD: Uncertified
Frederick Joseph “Fritz” Friebel, 1923, Big Fish Lake, Pasco County, 20 pounds, 2 ounces
FLORIDA RECORD: Certified
Billy O’ Berry, 1986, unnamed lake, Polk County, 17 pounds, 2 ounces
Source: Florida Trend Magazine
Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at .
Published March 24, 2021