Legend of the sport is someone who has made significant con- tributions or achieved uncommon accom- plishments en route to leaving an indelible mark on the history of the sport. These are individuals who have set new standards, cre- ated new trends and driven the bar to new heights as they have blazed the trails of
their careers. Without these individuals, the sport of bass fishing would have nothing to measure itself against. The industry, minus their involvement, would likely be in a much less advanced state than it is. The drive of dominating competition, on and off the water has left a trail of history that many are witness to, yet few are a component of. One of those anglers is Bill Dance of Collierville, Tennessee.
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While Bill Dance may very well be the most famous fisherman in the world now, his fishing career started with tournaments. As many of the sport’s elite level pros, Dance has a résumé that includes a list of creden- tials that most anglers beginning a tournament career would long to have. The first event that Dance en- tered in his 14-year competitive career was Ray Scott’s original All American; the tournament that founded the Bass Anglers Sports- man Society, on Beaver Lake in Springdale, Ark. He finished 2nd in that initial event to Stan Sloan, his first in a string of six top 10 finishes. In fact, Dance’s prowess as a competitor was such that it wasn’t until his 20th career event that he finished out- side to the top 20. In those 19 events Dance won seven tournaments, had three 2nd places and two more 3rd place showings. All told, in his first 19 events, he placed in the top 10 17 times. According to BASS statistics, the average fin- ish of his 78 entries was a little
more than 14th place, collecting paychecks on 54 occasions, a success rate of nearly 70%. Dance’s competitive career featured eight trips to the Bass- master Classic, in eight of the first nine such events held by B.A.S.S. His highest Classic finish, a runner up position to Rayo Brecken- ridge, came in 1973, on Clarks Hill Reservoir in South Carolina, during the third Classic put on by the organization. His consistency in competition earned him three B.A.S.S. An- gler of the Year Titles, in 1970, 1974 and again in 1977. For the first eight years of the Angler of the Year tile, B.A.S.S. enjoyed an ongoing battle of Dance, and his contemporary Roland Martin that culminated in the pair claiming seven of the first eight awards. His career earnings totals $57, 134.42, which does not seem like much, until you consider the fact that his single highest pay- check was a $4,000 check for his 2nd place finish at the Lake Gaston Virginia Invitational in 1977. Were he competing today, his first 19 events would have earned him $883,500. However successful his tournament career, to relegate Dance to his status as a tournament exclusively would be to disregard what might possibly be his most significant contribution and ac- complishment, his nationally syndicated television show, Bill Dance Outdoors. While it didn’t start at the top, Bill Dance Outdoors may be one of the most widely viewed fishing shows on television. Originally premiering in 1968 on a Memphis, Tennessee ABC affiliate, Bill Dance Outdoors has grown to reach more than 18 million homes in 50 states on the Versus Network. While his original series focused on freshwater Sportfishing, a second show, Bill Dance Saltwater, began in January of 2009, and airs on the Outdoor Channel. Dance and his camera crew film 44 new episodes a year for the two shows. Each epi- sode of Bill Dance Outdoors airs five times a week on Ver- sus, and Bill Dance Saltwater airs three times a week on the Outdoor Channel. At least 180 times a year, anglers across the country learn some- thing new about fishing from and are entertained by Dance. With that many new episodes each year, with the average number of people in each household, this means the average amount of visual impressions made by Dance in a year could be more than five billion.
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