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Bill Dance

From his home and production studio in Collierville, Tenn. (pop. 31,872), near Memphis, Bill Dance oversees a fishing empire that includes his TV show, tackle endorsements, how-to seminars, his own magazine and a series of popular “blooper” videos, hilarious, self-deprecating outtakes from his shows.

“I’ve got to be careful not to let this job turn into work,” he jokes.

“Bill has a special knack for connecting with his viewers,” says Tony Mack, Dance’s TV producer for 36 years. “It’s hard to explain, but whatever he does, it works. People love it.”

“He’s the greatest people person I’ve ever known,” adds Carlton Veirs, who handles Dance’s personal appearances and endorsements. “Bill’s never met a stranger, whether it’s at some rural little boat dock or at a big outdoor show in Las Vegas. And it’s genuine; he likes people, and people like him. That’s the key to his success.”

No trophies for “top fishing show” or “America’s most-watched outdoors program” adorn his office—mainly because no one in Dance’s organization has ever pursued such designations. “The only ‘award’ we care about,” says producer Mack, “is seeing the show grow from one small local station to being carried in every state with 18 million viewers.”

“I’m truly amazed by it all,” Dance says. “I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed to be able to make a living doing something I love.”

“He’s got a magic touch,” agrees John Sloan, veteran outdoors writer. “He’s an expert fishermen and he likes to show other people how he does it. He genuinely wants folks to be able to go out and catch fish, just like he does. And he’s so darn friendly while he’s doing it. There’s not a pretentious bone in his body. Everybody who knows Bill likes him. In his business there’s often some professional jealously, but not in Bill’s case. Everybody loves the guy.”

“I just be myself,” says Dance, whose Outdoors outtakes include shots of him falling off a boat dock, taking a tumble out of his boat and banging his shin on a trailer hitch—pratfalls and blunders to which every fisherman can relate. “I don’t put on airs,” he says. “I don’t try to be slick and fancy. If you fake it, folks will see right through it. Who they see is who I am.”

For 40 years, Bill Dance’s trademark has been his orange and white University of Tennessee cap. He’s always filmed or photographed wearing it.

Excerpts from a story by Larry Woody of Nashville, Tenn.