If you’re a serious fisherman, casual fisherman, or you’ve turned on the television in the last 50 years, Bill Dance needs no introduction. For everyone else, Bill Dance is a bass fishing legend. As the titular host of Bill Dance Outdoors, Bill helped teach—and entertain—multiple generations of anglers. Known for his down-home demeanor, trademark sunglasses, and Tennessee cap, Bill may be the most recognizable fisherman in the world. But he’s also one of the best to ever bait a hook.
Bill has earned just about every accolade a professional fisherman can. His resume includes 23 National Bass Titles and he is a three-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (1970, 1972, and 1977). He undoubtedly would have won more titles had he not retired from pro fishing in 1980 to focus on his television career. Bill is a member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, National Freshwater Hall of Fame, International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, and more. He is also the recent recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Tennessee. So, you can call him Dr. Dance.
Outsider sat down with Dr. Dance at the World’s Fishing Fair in Springfield, MO, on March 31 to ask him 5 Questions about Bass Pro Shops founder/CEO Johnny Morris, the one that got away, the lure every angler should have in their tackle box, and more.
1. You’re here today celebrating 50 years of Bass Pro Shops, but you’ve actually known founder/CEO Johnny Morris longer than that?
Bill Dance: Johnny and I met in 1970, just south of here on beautiful Table Rock Lake [in the Missouri Ozarks]. And our friendship started to grow at that point. You know, somebody once said, when your time comes, if you can hold up five fingers and say you’ve got five great friends, well, Johnny Morris would be right here. He’d be one of the top two. He’s just a close, close friend and a true, true friend. He’s the same Johnny Morris today as I met 52 years ago. And the thing about John, he’s a true conservationist.
2. Can you speak to some of Johnny’s conservation efforts you’ve witnessed and taken part in?
Bill Dance: So I’ve done a lot of interviews the past three days since I’ve been here, and I can’t say enough about when God made Johnny Morris. He did a great and wonderful thing. I just don’t think Johnny knows how great he is. And he would never admit it. If you ever get to know him, he’s just a wonderful person that just gives so much back. You look at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. There’s no telling how much money he’s given. Ducks Unlimited, how much he gives to DU. And I can’t even begin to think of all the organizations.
Our lake trail across Tennessee, my home state. He gave a lot of money back to it. We’ve got Tennessee Tourism, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, and the State of Tennessee. He gave a lot of money to help this trail because he wants to promote fishing. Johnny loves to see people fish. He wants to see people fish.
3. Every great fisherman has the story about the ‘one that got away.’ What’s yours?
Bill Dance: One that there was a disappointment was the [1973 Bassmaster] Classic on Clarks Hill Reservoir. I had the winning fish right up to the boat. And ABC’s [The American] Sportsman . . . they were shooting that particular event. And I had a school of fish where a creek channel hit the main river channel. It was a long point. And I found those fish, it was in the Classic where you could only pack 10 pounds of tackle, and I had three packs of floating worms.
I caught my limit every day. I think I was only one in the tournament that limited all three days. But I had one fish, they said it weighed eight pounds. It didn’t, it might have weighed five, but I had it up to the boat and they said, “Let it stay in the water, just a second. Let’s get a tighter shot.” And the fish made a turn. And when he did, he got off. I should have just gone on and pulled him in. And that was the winning fish, but that’s the one that got away.
4. What’s the one lure every fisherman should have in their tackle box?
Bill Dance: If somebody said you’re going to be on Survivor, and you could only have one lure, what would it be? Okay. What would that one lure, one color, one size be?
It would be a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait. I would take a 3/8-ounce because it’s more universal. 1/4-ounce is too light sometimes. I/2-ounce is too heavy sometimes.
I would take the color black. Black is not a color, it’s a shade, but black holds its identity better than any other color underwater. At night, early in the morning, in murky water, and clear water, it’s more visible. That’s why I’d go black.
The next step, I would take a #5 silver Hildebrandt Colorado Blade. Why Hildebrandt? They make the best blades on the American market for spinners, balanced blade, durable blades with best reflection. Why silver? Silver reflects more than any other shade, any other color, any other finish. It reflects more. Why Colorado? A Colorado Blade vibrates more than any other blade. Willow Blade spins faster, but you got to reel it faster. You got to reel it faster for it to spin. Indiana Blade is a compromise blade between the Colorado and the Willow Blade, but the Colorado vibrates more and it can be fished free falling it, slow rolling it, gurgling it right under the surface. So for vibration, the Colorado Silver.
So my number one bait would be a black 3/8-ounce spinnerbait with a silver #5 Hildebrandt Colorado Blade. That’s the best combination bait I’ve ever seen.
5. Tennessee Vols Football is coming off a 7-6 year under first-year head coach Josh Heupel. What’s your 2022 prediction?
Bill Dance: Every year, people ask me that question. My answer is: we’ve got to wait and see. We’ve gone through a lot of coaches over the years, and every time we get a coach, we say this is the guy, this is the guy, this is the guy. I think Heupel’s a good coach. And if we get the right recruits, we will do well. But the SEC is a tough, tough conference, not only to play in, but to recruit in. It’s a powerhouse. If Tennessee gets good recruits—we’ve got good coaching and we’ve got tremendous tradition—we’ll succeed. I hope and pray we do well.