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Listen to Bill Dance, the original Fish Whisperer.
In every sport and walk of life, there are a few individuals destined to be remembered as the greatest of all time. Three of those individuals in the sport of bass fishing are Bill Dance, Hank Parker, and Jimmy Houston. We sat down with each of these legends to talk about their careers, experiences, and successes. Below is the first of the Bass Legend stories…
Here are the two most wonderful truths about legendary angler and TV fishing host, Bill Dance:
- If you listen to what he says, you will catch more fish – bass, crappie, trout, redfish, tarpon, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. He speaks their language, and he can teach you.
- If you listen to what Bill Dance says, you will walk away thinking – or maybe wishing – he’s your new best friend.
Conservatively speaking, Dance has caught more than 100,000 fish on rods & reels. Also conservatively speaking, Dance has 10 million best friends – including everyone who has seen him on TV’s Bill Dance Outdoors or met him in person. Dance learned how to fish early in life and has honed his skills to perfection. But the remarkable ease with which he shares that knowledge and makes friends everywhere he goes comes from deep within his DNA. He is who is and always has been.
“Bill Dance believes it’s his job to make everyone in the world happy,” said Hank Parker, former professional angler, host of Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine show and longtime friend of Dance. “He makes it his life’s ambition to make everyone feel good.
“And I love to fish, but no one loves to fish more than Bill Dance loves to fish. I think he goes into withdrawal if he goes two days without fishing.”
But here’s the third (and lesser-known) great truth about Bill Dance: He not only loves to compete, this kind-hearted, soft-spoken, unassuming product of the shallow backwaters of the southern Mississippi river bottoms really, really loves to win. In fact, he says, so do the rest of us in the 50 United States.
“We Americans are a competitive breed,” he said. “Whether it’s in a tournament or two guys fishing together, we compete with one another and we want to win.”
“If you and I are watching the University of Tennessee play football against Alabama, we’re going to bet a Coca-Cola on that game,” he said. “If we’re selling real estate or automobiles, or if we’re playing golf, we’re going to try to beat one another. We’re all competitive.”
Despite his affinity for Tennessee University (he won’t fish without his white and orange U of T ballcap), Dance likes to quote former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose mug shot might be in Webster’s dictionary next to “competitor.”
“Vince Lombardi used to pound into his players that winning is achieved through determination,” said Dance. “The challenge in fishing is that, no matter how hard you compete against Mother Nature, you’re not always going to win. But you have to remain determined to do everything in your power to catch that fish – to drift your bait under that rock ledge and catch that smallmouth.
“But if the fish beats me today, I’m even more determined to beat him tomorrow. And if I do catch him tomorrow, I’ll release him to maybe catch another day. But I always, always drive myself to win.”
Dance grew up in Lynchburg, Tennessee (land of whiskey and bass) and, like most young anglers, he fished from the banks and longed for a boat.
“It’s funny how the grass is always greener on the other side,” said Dance. “A cow will have an entire pasture of green grass to itself, but it will stick its head between strands of barbed wire to eat that other grass. That’s how it was with me. I loved to fish, but I always thought that, if I could cast way out there, I could catch more fish. I’d even wade out as far as I could or stand on a log to get out a little farther.
“But when I got a boat, I was truly amazed at how much more water I could cover and how much deeper I could fish. My first boat was a 14-foot flat-bottomed Buddy Boat. Back then Mercury had a 9.8-horsepower outboard and that boat and motor helped me learn all about shallow-water fishing.”
Dance entered college in the 1960s with plans to become a doctor, like his father, his grandfather and three generations of Dr. Dances before them. However, after coming across a grisly motorcycle wreck he took a 90-degree turn and became a professional bass angler. He was spectacularly successful, catching the first fish ever caught on the brand new B.A.S.S. tour, then going on to claim Angler of the Year honors three times during the 1970s. He qualified for the Bassmaster Classic eight times and finished second in 1973. He won seven B.A.S.S. tournaments, then retired from tournament fishing in 1980 when he was just 39.
Dance was one of four pro-angler/future-TV-hosts who competed against one another – first in tournaments, and later in TV ratings – but grew closer together through it all. Hank Parker, Jimmy Houston, Roland Martin and Bill Dance created their own version of a “Rat Pack” of anglers-turned-TV stars. They all experienced success early, and all remain major influences on fishing today.
“Jimmy, Roland and Hank are all good friends,” said Dance. “We all came along at the right time and kind of grew up and competed together. They say you can’t mix business with pleasure, but we did exactly that. We help each other with everything, even sponsors. We’re all in the same business, but we’re friends, not competitors.
“If Roland called me in the middle of the night and said he was upside down somewhere in a ditch and needed help, the first thing I’d do is call Hank and Jimmy, then we’d go help Roland. With all four of us, it’s a 1,000-percent friendship.”
During Dance’s tournament years, a sponsor suggested he host a TV show to promote the sponsor’s products, and Bill Dance Outdoors was born in 1968. Fifty-one years later it’s still going strong – as is Bill Dance.
“I love fishing, period,” said Dance, “but it was bass fishing that got me to the dance. And Mercury has been behind us – on our boats and as a sponsor – almost all those years. In fact, Mercury is our oldest sponsor.”
When Bill Dance Outdoors was about 40 years old, Bill and the crew decided to launch a saltwater version “eight or nine years ago,” said Dance. “But when we first started, we got to the marina and all the boats were at the docks – rather than out fishing – because the economy was down.”
So, instead of featuring big fish caught from big offshore boats, Bill Dance Saltwater focused on inshore fish, which attracted a larger audience because inshore fishing was less expensive
“We geared it toward inshore fish, like bonefish, shark, snook, redfish and trout and we did well,” said Dance. “We created footage as we fished our way down the east coast of Florida all the way to Key West, then up the west coast, around the big bend, and toward Texas. We were using Mercury 115, 200 and 250-horsepower outboards, and the show really took off.”
Depending on which of Bill Dance’s best friends you ask, the Bill Dance Bloopers tapes (now DVDs) might be more popular than his TV shows.
“A funny thing happened to get those started,” said Dance. “Walmart was a major sponsor and they had a big supply of a particular bait that wasn’t selling. They told us we needed to do a show about that bait. But the fish were on a crash diet when it came to that bait. We fished several places trying to catch fish with it and eventually, we told them we had enough footage to create half a show.
“Well, we needed to fill the rest of the show and our producer (Tony Mack) had dug up a bunch of outtakes that he pieced together. Long story short, Dick Clark’s show Super Bloopers asked for a few bloopers they could run. They aired them, then called back real quick looking for more. CBS and ABC and even BBC all were doing blooper shows and they all called us.
“After that, our producer Tony (Mack) said, ‘Well, thunder, let’s put together our own bloopers show,’ and the rest is history.”
*Bill Dance and his wife, Dianne, have been married 47 years and they live in Eads, Tennessee. They have four children. Bill says Dianne is his best catch ever – even though she doesn’t fish.