A chance encounter with two legends of the sport changes Bill Dance’s fishing career.
Bill Dance has introduced millions to bass fishing since his very first fishing TV show hit the airwaves in 1968. Dance was the very first Bassmaster Angler of the Year, a title which he claimed a total of three times. Dance notched four top 10 finishes at the Bassmaster Classic en route to becoming a first ballot member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and is even credited with catching the first ever fish in B.A.S.S. tournament history. Recently, Bassmaster.com caught up with Dance at his Memphis-area home to talk about some of his favorite fishing memories from a lifetime on the water.
Dance: I was at a boat show in the Mid-South Coliseum when I walked by a guy selling lizard baits, jigs and other stuff. He had a sign that said “World Champion bass fisherman” or “National bass champion” or something to that effect. That kind of impressed me so I decided to introduce myself to this big old swanky fellow named Glen Andrews.
Glen said he had won some trophies down in Texas at a national bass tournament, and I said I didn’t even know they had national tournaments. He mentioned one in Oklahoma and one in Missouri and was real modest about it. He wasn’t a big bragger; he was just a cool slow talker that was really interesting in that way. He had an immediate likability about him.
That day we talked, and he taught me what a highland lake was. I had never heard of one until he told me they were places like Table Rock and Bull Shoals. And I didn’t see him again after that day for a long time.
Well, one day I was fishing a point on the Tennessee River when a boat roared up. I recognized that Glen Andrews was in that boat with another fellow who was in charge of the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission’s public relations. There was also a third guy in the boat. Well, I knew Glen and I knew the other fellow, who told me the man in the middle of the boat was Ray Scott.
I said, “Hold on, I got an invitation from you to fish a bass tournament around Labor Day at Beaver Lake.” Ray went right into his sales pitch about how great the tournament was going to be, and he offered to meet me for breakfast along the river at the hotel. I agreed and just as they were about to set off, they told me that I probably knew it but right there on the point we were at there was a school of bass.
I said, “Wait just a minute. Wait just a minute. You mean out there in the channel?” He said that they had a pretty good morning and ended up with 14 or 15 bass. I couldn’t believe that, and they also told me they caught some really nice ones around 4 to 6 pounds. I said, “What? What are you fishing with?” And they told me plastic worms just like I had on.
Glen told me that there was a creek channel coming out into the river that made a turn. Then he said another turn went into a wall under a mountain and that the bass they caught were in about 24 feet of water. This was absolutely unbelievable to me and — let me tell you — it changed my whole perspective on fishing. This was the beginning of everything Bill Dance started to become.
When they told me they caught bass that deep, I could not believe it. Glen told me to tie on a 3/8-ounce weight and head towards an area where he had found a school about 17 feet deep. Well, I only had about three weights that heavy, but I found one. I tied on a worm, went out and slung a cast towards a long rock wall in 16 or 17 feet of water. When it hit the bottom, I began to retrieve it when I had a bite. I mean I could not believe it.
I got the fish to the boat — it was just over 2 pounds — and I looked back at my wife, Diane, who was with me in complete shock. I said, “Did you see what I did? Did you see what your husband just did? I caught a bass in 17 feet of water. This is unbelievable. This is some kind of record. This is something never in my life I believed could be done!”
Eventually I caught two more and Diane made me leave because I was so excited. I was completely losing my mind with the possibilities. I said, “Good Lord. I know a place up there, and I noticed a spot at Granite Creek and Yellow Creek and up here and over there.”
My hands were shaking.
I knew right there that I had to change my way of fishing. I knew that Ray’s tournament was coming up and there was only one person that could give me the guidance and direction to learn to fish like this. So, I scrambled to get the boat on the trailer and meet Glen and Ray for breakfast. This turned into Ray pitching his tournament and me trying to get him to stop talking so I could talk to Glen and get his phone number.
Eventually, Glen Andrews taught me about contour maps, compasses and depth finders. I would get discouraged and Glen would tell me to always think positively. I went on to fish that tournament and caught a bass before most of the other boats were even over the horizon from takeoff.
Years later, I was working an event for Johnny Morris up in Missouri and someone told me Glen was in the crowd. Sure enough, way up in the bleachers there was an old man in a tweed cap with a cane. It was Glen. Later on, I grabbed the microphone from Johnny — who was in on the whole deal — and told the world that Glen Andrews was the best bass fisherman I had ever seen.
I owe everything I am today to Glen, and Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin were right there with me in agreement. Together, we all walked way up in the bleachers to go see him — along with Diane.