Catfish Profiles in Passion – Bill Dance
By Ron Presley
There is a cure for the summertime blues
In the folklore of bass fishing is a name that everyone knows and respects. For many years Bill Dance has been catching bass and sharing his wisdom with others on how they could catch them too. What many people don’t know, but are finding out, is that Bill Dance has a passion for catfish, trophy blue catfish to be precise.
With his home near Memphis, Tennessee it was only natural that he would develop a love for chasing the whiskered brutes in his home waters of the Mississippi River. He grew up bass fishing and made a career out of it, but lately his name pops up more and more often in catfish circles and his support for the sport is exemplary.
“I have been fanatical about chasing really big catfish for 16 or 17 years now,” revealed Dance. “I love the challenge of knowing our biggest fish are right here in the Mid-South. I know that big blue catfish, in excess of 100 pounds, go to sleep hungry every night, practically in my backyard. That thought absolutely keeps me going strong. When you are out there on the Mississippi River you just know there’s always a chance to hook the catfish of a lifetime.”
Dance’s affliction with catfish fever and the fact that he lives near Memphis has resulted in a nickname that’s aptly suited. “My catfishing friends call me Mr. Blue,” revealed Dance. “When I think about the nickname it seems a bit ironic. I’m fishing for big blue catfish, often on the Mississippi River in the shadow of the Memphis Bluffs. Those bluffs are only a couple of miles from Beale Street, which is known for another kind of blues.”
Why so blue, Mr. Blue? “Well, I’m surrounded by them blue catfish and them musical blues notes. I’m sure you’ve heard Eddie Cochran’s rendition of ‘There Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues.’ Well, I’m here to tell ya’, there is. It all takes place right here at Memphis, TN on Mr. Muddy, the Mighty Mississippi, during the dog days of August.”
There is definitely a clue in that last statement for anglers wanting to give the Mighty Mississippi a try for big blues. “The month of August is perhaps one of the prime months for catching big blue catfish,” instructed Dance. “I like to fish August through December. The reason for that choice is the condition of the river. It is more stable during this time frame. It’s typically low, has better clarity, and is more predictable. All this adds up to more consistent fishing results.”
Those consistent results were evident on one fishy September day. “I have had a lot of good days on the Mississippi River,” stated Dance. “My best day took place about three years ago while fishing with my good friend George Young. I caught five really good fish about 35 miles north of Memphis. I caught five fish on baits no bigger than a 50-cent piece. We were fishing slow current at a depth of 44 feet. I landed 20-, 28-, 40- and 75-pound blue cats. I then topped off the day with a 110.25-pound blue cat.”
The 110.25 is Dances biggest blue catfish to date and not that far from the Tennessee state record of 112 pounds. “All these fish were caught in 75-yard drifts,” explained Dance. “I have had many days where we caught several 40 pounders, with a 50 or 60 sometimes included, but there was never a 75 and 110 pounder in the mix.”
Dance’s most common technique for chasing trophy blues is a method he describes as controlled-drifting. “You are holding the boat in the current with the trolling motor,” explains Dance. “The bow is into the current as the boat drifts slowly downstream while you work the bait back a good distance behind the boat. This method is popular for one reason,” says Dance. “It catches lots of fish.”
“I really like to fish the slow down-current ends of shoals. I look for depths of 30 to 60 feet. In those depths, it’s easy to control your boat and there are lots of food sources. This is where many nice sized, hungry catfish hangout.”
Part of his passion for trophy blue catfishing comes from the confrontation offered by the Big Muddy. “Fishing moving water and fishing the Mighty Mississippi, America’s biggest river, is a challenge,” said Dance. “It’s the ultimate challenge. The river is so unpredictable. You are always at the mercy of the river and its many elements. One day it’s high. One day it could be low. One day it can be forgiving and favorable, and the next day, it’s far from it. Every day is a challenge and so are its big catfish. If you can catch cats, here, you can catch them anywhere.”
Mr. Blue’s passion for catfishing and his attitude toward the sport never allows him to have a bad day. “I have been skunked many days on the Mississippi,” stated Dance. “That just happens, that’s just fishing. At the end of each day, I am well aware that I got to go fishing and any day that I get to go fishing has got to be a good day. Hey, I plan to fish forever – well, that and a little bit more.”
Editor’s note: A similar version of this profile appeared in the June 2016 edition of Catfish Magazine.