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Dance to Design Signature Lakes

Company’s allure will be quality fishing

By Bryan Brasher, Courtesy of The Commercial Appeal

During the past half century, few people have benefited more from their association with the largemouth bass than fishing legend Bill Dance.

Bass helped make Dance a tournament star during the 1960s and helped launch his television career during the 1970s.

Since then, bass have been the major building blocks in an angling empire that’s known the world over by people who instantly recognize his orange and white “T” cap.

Now Dance wants to do something for bass – and the millions of anglers who love them.

Dance recently entered a partnership with Memphis businessman Robert Chandler to begin work on the “Bill Dance Signature Lakes Program.”

Through the program, Dance will oversee the design and management of world-class fishing lakes all over the country. The lakes will come in all shapes and sizes – and they’ll be built everywhere from national forests to golf courses or even in your own backyard.

“Anyone who knows me knows that bass have been awfully good to me,” said Dance, an Eads, TN resident and host of the popular “Bill Dance Outdoors” television show. “I want to do everything I can for them, and this program will help create more good habitat for bass. It’ll also create more good areas for fishermen – and that means a lot to me as well.”

How it works

Dance and Chandler are quick to point out they’re not running a lake-building company.

They’re merely acting as consultants – fishing architects, if you will – to help people build their own fishing paradises.

People who enlist the services of the Bill Dance Signature Lakes Program will receive an assessment of their project and a proposal with personal touches from Dance. Dance will then make a personal visit to the site before construction begins. Signature Lakes will be designed with the best interest of the fish – and fisherman – in mind.

They’ll feature varying water depths and plenty of the points and underwater ledges that fish love to call home. The designs will also include lots of wooded cover and underwater grass beds for fish habitat.

Once the lakes are built and water is pumped in, a biologically sound fishstocking plan will be provided that allows for maximum annual growth. Forage fish like threadfin shad and bluegill are usually stocked during the fall, followed by largemouth bass the next summer.

It’s a plan Dance has followed for decades with his own lakes.

“People have been asking me for advice on lake design and management for years,” Dance said. “I’ve always been anxious to help people with their lakes, and this venture will give me more opportunities to do just that.”

Once a Signature Lake is completed, Dance and program officials will provide continued guidance for lake maintenance, enhancement and refinement. Each lake will receive official Bill Dance Signature status, much like the signature golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

“When he gets involved with a lake, he just dives in head first. He lights up like a Christmas tree,” Chandler said. “Once Bill agrees to do a Signature Lake, he’ll be in it for the long haul – for as long as the lake owners want him to be.” Long-term management will include devising a strategy for removing the proper number of fish each year. It will also include regular electrofishing studies to determine the population and growth rates of each lake.

A recent electrofishing study on a lake managed by Dance in west Tennessee revealed a 14-pound, 2-ounce largemouth bass. The fish would have pushed the current Tennessee state record if it had been caught on a rod-and- reel.

For everyone, everywhere

The Signature Lakes Program is available to landowners who want to build new lakes and to the owners of existing lakes who want to make major improvements. The program is already being used by developers as a tool for luring new home buyers.

“A lot of people will be using these lakes as revenue builders,” Chandler said. “We’ve had interest from real estate developers, private hunting clubs, landowners with big properties, economic development groups, and even golf courses.

“We’re not offering the service for every lake on the side of the road. There will be a certain amount of exclusivity tied to the Bill Dance Signature Lake status.” A three-lake development is being planned with Signature Lakes just outside Oxford, Mississippi, and Highlands Plantation Hunting Club in north central Mississippi is using the program to design a private 30-acre fishing lake.

But the program is not limited to private fisheries.

Inside the sprawling Homochitto National Forest in Southwest Mississippi, a 1,000-acre fishery known as Okhissa Lake has been constructed that will bear the Bill Dance Signature Lakes logo. The lake, which will be opened to the public in late October or early November, has 39 miles of shoreline and will no doubt have a positive economic impact on the surrounding communities.

Fisherman are expected to pour into the area from all over the Southeast, and Forest Service officials hope to see lodges, cabins, restaurants, a marina and campgrounds constructed around the lake in the future.

“Okhissa Lake is something we’re really excited about in this part of the country,” said Tim Reed, District Ranger for the National Forest Service at Homochitto. “We think it’s going to be a great place for outdoorsmen – and you just can’t go wrong by having a guy like Bill Dance involved.”

In Hardeman County, Tennessee, local businessmen and city officials are in the early stages of a process that could bring a 3,000-acre Bill Dance Signature Lake to a rural area between Bolivar and Silerton. It would be the third-largest public lake in west Tennessee – behind Pickwick and Reelfoot.

“The project is very, very much in the embryonic stages right now,” said Calvin Howell, a member of the Hardeman County Chamber of Commerce who has been appointed to spearhead the lake project. “We’re still early in the process, but a lot of people are excited about the possibilities.”



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