ORLANDO, Fla. — I was milling around the annual New Product Showcase during last week’s ICAST fishing tradeshow when I suddenly realized industry legend Bill Dance had entered the building.
With that iconic orange and white T-cap, those signature oversized glasses and a personality bigger than his home state of Tennessee, he’s pretty hard to miss.
I’ve considered Bill a genuine friend since my days as the outdoors writer for The Memphis Commercial Appeal when he and I lived just a few miles from one another and fished together regularly — for both work and fun.
We’ve fished for everything from crappie and bluegill to bass and giant blue catfish.
I was bass fishing one evening at Herb Parsons Lake when I got a treble hook in my hand — my second one in eight months — and I drove by Bill’s house to let him use the braided-line trick to remove it.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had that kind of laidback friendship with a guy who’s accomplished as much as anyone ever will in fishing.
But when I saw him Tuesday night, I was actually a little reluctant to approach him.
See, we live in different states now. He’s had some health issues, I have a lot going on with two small children, and I’ve done a terrible job of staying in touch.
In my mind, approaching him this year at ICAST was only going to accentuate the fact that I hadn’t talked to him since last year at ICAST — and with as good a friend as Bill has been to me, I was ashamed of that.
I went up to him only because my good friend and coworker, Thomas Allen, insisted.
Want to know the first words out Bill’s mouth?
“Why haven’t we been fishing?”
It was a knee-buckling question in the moment — and it hits even harder now, a week later.
Because it’s a question for which there are few acceptable answers.
Of all the people in the world who have no excuse for allowing friendships to lapse, fishermen are at the top of the list.
We don’t have to wait until we bump into each other at a wedding or a funeral or a tradeshow.
We only need to say, “What time? What lake? What ramp?”
Just like that, time evaporates.
The fact that you haven’t shared a boat with your favorite fishing buddy lately doesn’t subtract a single fish from the total number you’ve caught together in the past. It doesn’t smudge one memory.
If anything, a little time makes those old stories — the ones you’ve already told a thousand times — seem fresh and new all over again.
In the event that life gets in the way of an actual fishing trip — like moms always say — the phones still work where you live.
And no phone conversation allows for better catching up than one that takes place between two guys who’ve done some serious fish-catching together.
So, call it an ICAST resolution.
I’ll be giving Bill a call soon.
I hope life will allow us to go fishing.
But even if it won’t, we’ll talk about the time we followed a de-icing truck through the West Tennessee backroads for a story on wintertime bluegill fishing when the daytime high was 19 degrees.
We’ll talk about the days we spent bumping bottom with cut skipjack for big blue cats on the mighty Mississippi River and the afternoons we went jug fishing for channel cats at McKellar Lake.
Maybe you didn’t go to ICAST.
Maybe you don’t know Bill Dance.
But somewhere out there is an old fishing buddy you’ve lost touch with.
Think about that person and ask yourself, “Why haven’t we been fishing?”
Then remember…there are very few acceptable answers to that question.