Bill Dance Signature Lake Series
YouTube: Gov. Bill Lee

Bill Dance Talks His New Signature Lake Project in Tennessee

Bill Dance wants to give back to his state by personally helping to improve the waters.

Fishing legend Bill Dance has a lot of irons in the fire, even at 81 years old. That was obvious just from trying to schedule time to talk to him about his latest project in Tennessee.

Eventually I got the guy many would call the greatest fisherman of all time on a video call to talk about his new "Bill Dance Signature Series" of lakes, a statewide program highlighting bodies of water slated for some major improvements, which will be stamped with the Bill Dance name and help make Tennessee a best-in-class destination for anglers worldwide. It's an ambitious project, even for one of America's favorite anglers.

"The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency and the State are going to invest over $15 million in improvements both above and below the water in 18 lakes," Dance told me.

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He's partnering with Governor Bill Lee, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development, and Tennessee State Parks, and it's not just about improving the fishing and access, either.

Lakes bring people together

Bill Dance Signature Lakes

Larry McCormack

Dance sees the water as a uniting and attracting force for people, so it was only natural to use his name and the waters to promote his home state of Tennessee.

"Lakes seem to have a way of attracting people, not only for fishing, but for recreation," Dance said. "To bring the families to camp, to picnic, to wade in the water, to look [in the] water, or whatever."

The Signature Series was an idea Dance brought to a previous Governor a while back. Unfortunately, the idea got put on the back burner for economic reasons. After an administration change, the Bill Dance Organization decided to try again. Once they brought the idea to Gov. Lee, it was go time.

"Governor Lee liked the idea, we presented it to the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, our game and fish, and they liked it," Dance said.

It didn't take long for others to hop on board from there, many of whom Dance already had connections with. That no doubt helped speed the process along.

"One of our big boosters was the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development, who has been a sponsor of Bill Dance Outdoors for quite some time," Dance said. "They really liked the idea."

The project will add new signage to each of the 18 lakes to indicate the water is a Bill Dance Signature Lake. Anglers can also expect to see things like new courtesy docks, fishing piers, boat ramps, and more at public access points. It's not just improvements to access points either. Dance noted some lakes may need underwater structure. Others are in need of fresh forage or a stocking because they are depleted. Others may need to be drained down slightly. Basically, whatever is needed to improve the fishery, Dance and the project's support team are going to do it.

"We looked at the lakes that had just been there, that had become stale and stagnant, that we could turn those lakes 180 degrees," Dance said. "Some of our park lakes had reached a point [where] they had grown up and they had just fallen off like many lakes do."

He noted that one lake not too far from where he lives is one of the most popular waters in the state, drawing more people than almost any other lake in a wildlife management area (WMA).

"It's a little lake, but we're going to make it a family fun lake. We're going to concentrate on growing giant-sized bluegill to feed on a one-to-one ratio," Dance said. "For every pound of feed they eat, they gain a pound."

This would be a huge improvement because despite being popular, right now the lake needs a little TLC.

"But it's the worst lake in the state," he continued. "We can turn this lake around and really, really improve it."

Fortunately, Dance has made some great contacts with people who can help in this area over the years.

"We've got some good people on our team that really know a lot about fish management, along with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, they know a lot about fish management," Dance said. "So, working together, we can come up with a great program."

They are putting an extra emphasis on stocking to help people find success on a more consistent basis in waters that may not be what they used to be.

"You don't want to take your children to the lake, and they bomb out, they bomb out, they bomb out, you want them to catch fish," Dance said.

It's not just about fishing

Improving fishing is one of the main goals of the Bill Dance signature series. And the group did pick many of the lakes based on its ability to become a destination fishing location. However, that was not the only factor in play here. Dance sees a bigger picture, and it involves bringing some tourist dollars into areas of the state that truly need it.

"What that's going to do is it will touch 39 counties, including 22 at risk or economically distressed counties," Dance said. "It's an important step in helping those counties create new revenue streams through increased visitation."

It's an ambitious idea, but one that makes a lot of sense given the geography of the state and the proximity of many of these lakes to the state lines.

"If you look at the state of Tennessee, we're 400-something miles wide," Dance said. "So, traffic coming south from St. Louis, south down 55, traffic coming down 40 across the state, I-65, I-75, I-95 a little bit to the east. All come very close to our border or come through the state of Tennessee."

That means once the project is off and running, it should draw out-of-state anglers from places like Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, and more. And there's a little something for everyone.

"We have great fishing from the eastern part of the state with our trout fishing, we have great fishing for our big stripers, we have great muskie fishing, surprisingly," Dance said. "We have great smallmouth fishing as we move towards the middle part of the state. We still have good smallmouth, largemouth."

Dance knows the weight his name carries, and hopes that the signature series, combined with Tennessee's already rich fishing history will create a combination that creates wins all around.

"So, we can create interest into those distressed counties by bringing our neighboring states to come in and create increased visitation," he added.

Waters slated for improvement

Bill Dance Signature Series

Larry McCormack

The list of waters for the Bill Dance Signature Series includes some well-known names and some others that only locals might be familiar with. The 18 waters that will become Bill Dance signature lakes are:

  • 1000 Acre Lake, Huntington, TN (Carroll County)
  • Brown's Creek Lake, Natchez Trace (Henderson County)
  • Chickamauga Lake, Harrison Bay State Park & Chester Frost Park (Hamilton, Rhea, Meigs, McMinn and Bradley Counties)
  • Dale Hollow Lake, North Central TN (Clay, Pickett, Fentress and Overton Counties)
  • Douglas Lake, East TN (Jefferson, Sevier and Cocke Counties)
  • Fall Creek Falls Lake, Fall Creek Falls State Park (Van Buren County)
  • Herb Parsons Lake (Fayette County)
  • Kentucky Lake, Paris Landing State Park (Henry, Stewart, Houston, Benton, Decatur, Perry and Humphreys Counties)
  • Lake Acorn, Montgomery Bell State Park (Dickson County)
  • Lake Woodhaven, Montgomery Bell State Park (Dickson County)
  • Norris Lake, Northeast TN (Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger and Union Counties)
  • Old Hickory Lake, Middle TN (Sumner and Davidson Counties)
  • Pickwick Lake, Pickwick Landing State Park (Hardin County)
  • Pin Oak Lake, Natchez Trace State Park (Henderson County)
  • Reelfoot Lake, Reelfoot Lake State Park (Lake and Obion Counties)
  • Tim's Ford Lake, Tim's Ford State Park (Franklin and Moore Counties)
  • Travis McNatt Lake, Big Hill Pond State Park (McNairy County)
  • Watauga Lake, Northeast TN (Johnson and Carter Counties)

Old Hickory Lake is where Mabry Harper reeled in the current world record walleye, a monstrous 25-pounder caught all the way back in 1960. And then there's Dale Hollow Lake where David Hayes reeled in his massive 11-pound 15-ounce smallmouth back in 1955.

Mentioning that fish brings back fond memories for Dance, who still vividly remembers when it was first caught, and when he first saw a photo of it in the paper in Lynchburg where he grew up.

"I remember, on the front page of the sports section, it came, and it was in color. They printed it in color," Dance said with amazement. "It says: 'World Record Smallmouth Caught by D.L. Hayes on a White Bomber Lure.'"

It helped to solidify a love for smallies, which he grew up catching while wading the creeks. That love only grew when he started targeting them on Pickwick Lake, which was another obvious choice for the signature series. For Dance, it's hard to describe his feelings on having his name permanently attached to so many legendary waters. He gets emotional about it because he wishes he could share the experience of every catch he makes on his TV show with the audience. He described wishing he could pass the rod through the screen just so the audience can truly share in the excitement.

"You can't experience this because you're not doing it," he said. "It feels wonderful, it's just a deep wonderful feeling that comes from within inside, and it's extremely hard to express. You can't express it unless you feel it."

In the end, he's hoping that this project will ultimately lead to more people getting the chance to enjoy those experiences firsthand. He says he hopes people will join him in taking someone new to fish one of these lakes.

"To be able to do this for my home state, and to have your name, I guess it's like having your name put on a bridge, or put on a road, or a street, or a highway, or a jar of peanut butter or something," Dance said. "It has special meaning, it really does."

For more information on the Bill Dance Signature Series, check out the official website.

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