» The FirST STepS
Along with the impact of his presence on television, Dance is one of the most sought after promoters of fishing and fish- ing related products. His impact annually is responsible for the purchase of millions of dollars of goods for companies whom he represents. Anglers all over the country turn to him as an in- fluence when choosing products to purchase. His promotional prowess is felt in product lines from lures to trucks and every- thing in between. While the Bill Dance Outdoors Empire is certainly far reach- ing in scope of influence, like anyone, he started his fishing career long before he was actually getting paid to cast. His beginnings can be found in the roots of a family tree that loved the outdoors.
Like so many others, Dance learned his love of the out- doors from two people in his life; his father and grandfather. “I was really blessed as a youngster to have a Daddy and Gran- daddy who loved to hunt and fish,” said Dance. “They gave me the greatest gift; they introduced me to the great sports of fish- ing and hunting, and it started early on in my life.” Dance said he spent much of his youth wading the creeks of middle Tennessee fishing with his grandparents. For quite a while he fished for everything that he could catch. Nothing was immune from the business end of young Dance’s fishing tackle. From hunting crawfish to black perch, smallmouth bass and catfish in the rain, they all offered a sportsman’s delight. “I loved those times with my grandparents,” he said. “To this day, those early experiences are the reason I love to fish moving water so much.” Being from a small town in Tennessee, Dance said the town would close up on Wednesday afternoons, and it was a tradition for his grandparents to take him to the local lake for an after- noon catching fish. “We used a lot of live bait in those days,” said Dance. “I used one of the four rods my Grandaddy had purchased for me. It was either the metal tubular telescopic fly rod, the South Bend Automatic, the old Pflueger with braided Dacron line or my favorite; a Pflueger Summit on an octagon shaped metal rod. I don’t mind tellin’ ya’ buddy – it was state of the art in those days.” It was on one of those Wednesday afternoon outings that Dance fell in love with black bass. As an eight-year-old, he had purchased his first lure at a local establishment called Motlow’s Hardware. “Lem Motlow was a local businessman who became the proprietor of Jack Daniels distillery when Mr. Daniels died,” Dance reported. “One of his son’s ran the hardware store, and they had some tackle in it. I bought a frog colored Arbogast Jitterbug, and took it with me on our next Wednesday outing to Cumberland Springs, halfway between Lynchburg and Tulla- homa.” When they arrived at the lake, his grandfather would spread out his rods; his grandmother would spread out the pic- nic blanket and crochet, while he would walk the bank fishing. It was after he had walked away from his grandparents that he saw a pair of fish swimming near some reeds, in water so clear Dance reported “being able to read heads or tails on a nickel in 10 feet of water.” “I made a cast that was off target by about 20 feet with that Jitterbug, but when the bait hit the water; they stopped,” he said. “I started to reel that thing away from them, and they followed. When I stopped reeling, they stopped, when I started
again, they followed in turn. Eventually, the bigger of the two struck the lure; and I saw every bit of the action.” He said his excitement led him to handle the landing of the fish in a less than graceful manner. “You’ve got to picture this kid in hi-top sneakers and an old rod as I threw the rod back over my head and began well-roping that fish in,” remembered Dance. When I got it to the bank, I reeled up all of the slack and ran to my grandparents to show it off.” Dance said the experience left an indelible mark on his life. “That was the first lure caught bass, and I fell in love with artifi- cials,” he said. “I’ve experienced that moment maybe a million times since, but that moment is what started my career.” It wasn’t too much longer when Dance’s parents separated, and the young man moved with his mother to Memphis. While Wednesday afternoon outings were no longer the tradition, he still fished every chance he got. “I would ride my bike or catch a bus to city parks to go fishing,” he said. “When I got older, I borrowed her car until I got my own, but I went fishing as often as I could.” Like many mothers, Dance’s encouraged his passion, even when it was not necessarily to her benefit. “I used to buy her rods and reels, or lures for Mother’s Day or Christmas,” he remembered. “She’d see right through my attempt at gift giving and tell me to use it until she needed it; she was always good that way.” He eventually got an outboard motor, a fishfinder and a john boat, and every free minute was spent fishing oxbow lakes around Memphis. “I sculled that boat around until I got a trolling motor,” he said. “I caught a lot of fish in those days.” His prowess was noticed by others, and wasn’t too long before his tournament career would start.
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