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A Word on Fishing from Bill Dance

Here’s a fishing story from Bill Dance, contributor to our new book Why We Fish by Robert Montgomery:        Bill Dance

Sometimes, the “big one” gets away, and that only intensifies the aspiration. Ask Bill Dance.  He would become one of the world’s most famous and successful bass anglers from the late 1960s through the 1970s and then one of fishing’s most popular television personalities. But before that, he was a young man, just married, that day on Pickwick Lake. He used a paddle to maneuver his johnboat down the side of a bluff, where hungry smallmouth bass chased shad.

“I had just missed a 2 ½- to 3-pounder,” he recalls. “It had rained a lot and I was looking at a waterfall on down the bluff.  “When I looked back down at the lake, my little old popper just disappeared. I thought it was a bluegill, at first.”

Instead, it was a bass Bill Dance will never forget.

“He jumped five times,” the Tennessee angler says. “I saw four of them. The other time, he ran under the boat and jumped behind me before I even knew what happened. I saw him four times in the water and four times out of the water.”

“My Uncle Ben used to smoke cigars. He looked like a walrus with one tusk because you could see about an inch and a half of the cigar sticking out of his mouth.

“And when I saw that orange popper sticking out of the fish’s mouth, I thought of Uncle Ben. I could see just a little of that popper. The rest was in the fish’s mouth, including two sets of treble hooks.”

With the fish so well hooked, Dance understandably thought he was about to land the biggest smallmouth bass of his young life, possibly even a world’s record. Based on mounts he’d had seen at a taxidermist’s, he was certain this bass weighed more than ten pounds.

bass   But the next time the bass ran under the boat, the line went slack, and Dance retrieved his fishless popper.

He was devastated.

“I wanted to catch him so bad,” he remembers. “I went back there for weeks and months. I went back early and late. I went back at night. I fished up and down that bluff, knowing smallmouth bass have home-range tendencies. I went for a year, I know.”

And he spoke often of the one that got away.

Finally, wife Diane said, “I know what that fish means to you. It will be imprinted on your mind for the rest of your life. I know how you feel and I’m so sorry.

“But will you please stop talking about that fish?”

Decades later, though, he still talks.  “People ask me about the biggest smallmouth I’ve ever caught, and I’ll say three 8s,” Dance says. “But then I’ll add, ‘Let me tell you about another one.’”

Pro or amateur, young or old, all of us who fish have hooked fish that got away. Fortunately for our mental health, we don’t remember all of them. But one or two stay with us always. Heads shaking, they leap majestically in our dreams and memories. They burn drag. They burrow into brush. They throw baits back at us, and splash us back into reality with a slap of their broad tails.

Often, as with Dance, we believe those lost fish are the largest we’ve ever hooked.  As memorable to Bill as the Pickwick smallmouth is the bass he lost at Clarks Hill in 1973. He believes that fish would have won the Bassmaster Classic for him. Instead, he finished second to Rayo Breckenridge.

Time, though, has tempered the pain of losing both those fish, and helped Dance learn an important lesson about the value of fishing.         WWF_FrontCvr     

“It’s not the pounds or numbers of fish you catch,” he says. “Yes, you can weigh those, but they don’t come close to the memories.”

And among those memories are visions of the big ones caught—and others that got away—both of which help explain why we fish.

Read more fishing tales in Why We Fish!  (And before you ask–all the anglers in our book practice catch and release.

Got any stories to share?

I love reading your comments!  

Why We Fish

WWF_FrontCvrAuthor Robert Montgomery just alerted me to a new review on for his book Why We Fish: Reel Wisdom from Real Fishermen.  It’s heartwarming when a book we published (and I edited) touches someone in a meaningful way.  That’s why I’m sharing this review.

5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable read that could change our world! March 2, 2014 by Blake Muhlenbruck

My eyes are a blur as I write this review, stinging from the countless hours of nonstop memories that flooded my brain at 4:00am. Why We Fish solidified why I fish, from the beginning of my outdoor life to where I am today. I could relate to each and every tidbit shared by the wonderful folks who contributed to Robert U. Montgomery’s masterpiece.

By 5:30 a.m. my wife asked me if the red of my eyes was purely from sleep deprivation or if I had been crying. I said, “Me cry? No way. . . it’s natures way of removing unwanted skirt glitter from a long day of skirt designing.”

Yes, Why We Fish made me cry, along with many other emotions. Sadness for the simple things lost over the years, simply being reaffirmed by so many of the observations I have gained and shared with others, and understanding that others will never step outside of the asphalt jungle in which so many live today. Nature is no longer a priority in our lives. We have given it up for technology; the latest and greatest games. You’d think that with all this information at our fingertips we would be smarter and have a better understanding of the world and the wonderful treasures it holds.

I was brought back to first fishing trips shared with family and friends. A curtain rod, string and a hook was how I got my start. Robert lets us, his readers, immerse ourselves self in personal moments that may seem trivial to some, but are priceless for others. By 6:00am I was overcome with emotion, the smell of the ink and paper whiffed through senses and my four squares of T.P. I used for a book mark collected the dampness from my eyes.

I am blessed to have Robert as a dear friend although we have never had the pleasure of fishing together. We have had many conversations over the last seven years about not just fishing, but everything under the sun. Pretty amazing that fishing can build friendships that last a lifetime by simply getting back to our natural ways and sharing with others our observations of how wonderful our world is.

Why We Fish could by far be the most useful tool to use to help us save ourselves from ourselves. Education is the key to not repeating history; we as humans manipulate our biology while all other species work by a natural biological rhythm. Observe and learn, and you will gain wisdom.

Who knows, Why We Fish could just be the one pebble that creates a ripple that could change all of our lives. After all, Why We Fish was put together by some of the most brilliant stewards of our time.

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