bank fishing bill dance feature
PHOTO BY STEPHEN WALCOTT

Learning to Bank Fish From The Man In The Tennessee Cap

Merriam-Webster’s definition of a fisherman is one who engages in fishing as an occupation or for pleasure. If their definition also included an example of a fisherman who does both, it would be “the man in the Tennessee cap.”

Do a Google search for the qualities that make a good man, and you will find the words faithfulness, honesty, sense of humor, easy-going, respectful, family-oriented, and driven. Everyone, whether they fish or not, would say that perfectly describes legendary fisherman Bill Dance. Bill’s Granddaddy taught him how to fish at an early age and to love fishing while they fished the banks of creeks and ponds around Lynchburg, Tennessee. Today, Bill is continually teaching others about fishing whether it’s on his TV shows, at how-to seminars, in his books, through instructional videos, on social media, or talking to someone who walked up and asked for an autograph. He is an entertainer, but he is also an educator and is always teaching others about fishing just like his Granddaddy taught him.

Knowing that, I wanted to ask Bill a few questions about bank fishing on small waters since it is the type of fishing that got him started and is still a great way to catch fish.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL DANCE OUTDOORS

Hook & Barrel: Bill how does someone find places to go bank fishing in small waters like streams, ponds, and strip pits? 

Bill Dance: The first thing to do is talk to the fisheries department at the local conservation office. They should be more than willing to help since part of their job is to get more people using their state’s fishing resources. They can also do a Google search, ask employees at their local tackle store and talk to other fishermen. 

They should be trying to find out what kind of fish there are and what they feed on? Is it shallow water or deep water or both? What is the contour of the land underwater? What kind of structure does it have? Are there shaded areas? All these questions will help determine where the fish are.

H&B: What should they do when they first get there? 

BD: The first thing is, stay back until you determine where you should fish. Look for areas that are more likely to hold fish. Then, don’t go walking right up to the edge of the water wearing bright-colored clothing and making a bunch of noise, or you’ll spook every fish in sight. Wear dull colors or even camouflage, and keep a low profile. Learn how to sneak along the bank and even cast from your knees.

If they want to catch bass, they should start by fan casting different types of baits that imitate what the bass feed on at varied distances, depths, and speeds of retrieve. When they catch one, they will usually find other bass in the same type of areas.

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PHOTO BY STEPHEN WALCOTT

They also need to be observant. Watch and listen for feeding sounds like a splash in the water, ripples that could be a bass chasing supper, or herons feeding on baitfish at the water’s edge. If baitfish are there, you can bet bass are close by.

These small waters can hold big bass but I definitely encourage taking a quick picture and then getting that bass back in the water so it can be caught again another day after it has grown up some more.

H&B: I have always said that one of these days a state record bass will come from small waters by someone fishing from the bank. Would you agree or disagree with that? 

BD: Yes, I would certainly agree with you, and it will be because of the research and knowledge of people like Troy Gousby, who knows how to raise big bass, and Freddy Langsford, who right now is raising bass that grow over 3 pounds a year. As these fish are stocked in small waters across the country and given the right conditions and food to grow even bigger, we will see records being broken.

H&B: What about other species of fish they can catch from the bank? 

BD: Catfish can be found in just about all small waters, and they are fun to catch and great eating. Catfish feed mainly by their sense of smell, so they will do best using chicken livers, shrimp, prepared catfish dough baits, and things like that. Fish them on the bottom or suspended under a bobber.

Bluegill are also fun to catch on light tackle and especially if they find a place with big ole’ hybrid bluegill the size of your hand. If you have kids along they will have a ball catching them with a worm under a bobber.

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Bill loves teaching kids to fish.

H&B: Speaking of kids, bank fishing is a great way to introduce kids to fishing, isn’t it? 

BD: You bet! Small waters are great places for kids to get hooked on fishing. Make sure you let them use tackle that fits them— not you—and to the size of fish they will catch.

Once you have taught them to catch fish, let the kids take you fishing, and you are there because you are just tagging along with them. If fishing’s slow, show them how to catch a crawfish or skip a rock or let them pick a wildflower to take home to Mom. Just remember, it’s all about making memories.

H&B: One last question Bill, and this really has nothing to do with fishing but if you could choose three people to go to dinner with tonight, who would they be and why? 

BD: First of all, my Granddaddy. He was my mentor and gave me the greatest gift of all and that was introducing me to the great outdoors and not only teaching me how to fish, but he taught me so much about fish anatomy. He taught me the importance of sight and how fish can see and the importance of hearing and how fish hear. This helped me later in life with fishing and my career.

Secondly, Pope Francis because he seems to really relate and understand more so than any Pope in my lifetime. If there has been one that has stood out and really wants to be one of the boys, Pope Francis is the guy! I would love to spend an evening with this wonderful man.

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Seven-year-old Bill with his first bass.

And the third one would be Billy Graham. Growing up and listening to televangelists, none impressed me more than that of Billy Graham! I was blown away with his gentle voice and wonderful warm quotes like “My home is heaven. I’m just traveling through this world” and “God has given me two hands, one to receive and the other to give with.” There are so many quotes by this great man. I only wish I could have met him. Maybe, someday I will.

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” The life of Bill Dance definitely reflects his heart, and I am betting that one day he will meet Billy Graham. When he does, Billy better be ready to hear a bunch of fish stories from “the man in the Tennessee cap.”

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