Best he can recall, Bill Dance caught his first fish in a little creek that winds through Lynchburg where he began fishing as a kid with his grandpa and boyhood buddy Johnny Majors, future UT football star and coach.
Today, hundreds of thousands of fish later, Dance is undeniably the world's most famous and popular fisherman, thanks to his TV shows that he launched some four decades ago. Earlier this month Dance's contributions were acknowledged by his induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
"I'm flattered," said the 71-year-old resident of Collierville. "It's an honor for a fisherman like me to be in there with all those great athletes from our state."
Dance, the first fisherman to be inducted, was named the Hall of Fame's Pro Athlete of the Year several years ago.
Area fishing guide Jim Duckworth, who has been a close friend of Dance's for many years, said his long-time fishing buddy deserves the honor.
"Nobody has done more to promote sport fishing than Bill," Duckworth said. "He's not just an expert fisherman, he's also a super-nice guy and that comes across on his TV shows. He connects with his viewers. The Bill Dance you see on TV is the same Bill Dance that you'd share a fishing boat with. He's genuine."
Dance didn't plan to make a living fishing. He intended to be a doctor, as was his father and grandfather. But one night in Memphis he came across a horrific motorcycle accident and as he watched the victims being treated and loaded into ambulances he asked himself, "Do I want to do this for the rest of my life? And the answer was 'no.'"
Dance, who had had success on the pro fishing circuit, approached a Memphis TV station owner and talked him into letting him do a fishing show, believed to be the first of its kind. With Dance's combination of fishing expertise, engaging personality and quick wit, the show was an instant hit. It quickly went from local to regional to national.
Dance credits much of his success to the support to Dianne, his wife of 51 years, "the best catch I ever made."
"I'm not sure how most wives would react if their husbands came home one day and said, 'Honey, I've decided to quit my job and go fishing.' But when I told Dianne about my plan, she said OK, and she's been in complete support of my venture ever since."
Today Dance presides over a fishing empire that includes his TV show, videos, tackle endorsements and a fishing magazine. He has a production studio behind his home and is assisted by a staff that includes his sons.
Bill's trademark is his orange UT football cap. He wears it on his TV shows and videos and is seldom photographed without it. He explains the history behind the hat:
"Doug Dickey, UT's football coach at time, asked me to write a letter to a player he was recruiting," Dance says. "I did, and a few days later I got a UT football cap in the mail from Dickey. I wore it during my next tournament, which I won, and I was photographed with the UT cap. I started wearing it on the TV show, and 40 years later I'm still wearing it. "
Dance says the secret to his success is really not a secret.
"I just be myself and don't put on airs," he says. "I'm an 'ol country boy who likes to fish, is pretty good at it, and has been fortunate enough to make a living doing it. Every day I realize how lucky I am to be able to do something I truly love. I want my viewers to know that I appreciate them coming along with me on every trip."
Larry Woody can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.